Operation Sidekick2023-05-22T11:48:10-04:00

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Operation Sidekick

Our Shelter to Service program is rescuing, raising, and training pit bull dogs as service dogs (Sidekicks) for our veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. 20 military lives are lost to suicide from PTSD daily. Thousands of pit bulls are euthanized weekly. Utilizing a discarded population to help an underserved population. Welcome to Operation Sidekick – we got your six.


Evoking Hope – On Stage

In 2016 we set out on a mission to spread awareness about the mental health crisis plaguing our veterans and to raise awareness about how a population of discarded shelter animals could have a significant, positive impact on those veterans. Watch one of our first presentations on stage at SEED20 to learn more about where we started and how this community crisis requires a community solution. Special thanks to Social Venture Partners.

Our process

Pairing Sidekicks and Veterans

Criteria for our Sidekicks:

Our service dogs in training are specifically selected and cultivated for their significant jobs based on personality traits, temperament, and natural drive. We look for friendly, confident dogs that show no signs of aggression and are eager learners.

We select our service dog candidates through our local shelter and rescue partners and only accept pit bull-type dogs into the program.

We do not train already-owned dogs for service dog work

We do not accept donated dogs from private owners or rescued dogs from private citizens.

Criteria for our Veteran Candidates:

Our service dogs are paired with veterans based on the dog’s skills and abilities which best fit with the needs of the veteran. We do not pair dogs on a first-come, first-served basis due to the need to pair the right dog with the right person.

Veteran applicants must have a referral from a licensed healthcare provider which recommends a service dog and service dog-specific tasks that the provider believes would be beneficial to the treatment plan for the veteran.

Veterans must fill out an application and supply a copy of their DD214 with personal references

Veteran candidates must be willing to take on the full responsibility of the dog financially after placement, provide daily enrichment, continue training with their dog, and continue basic veterinary care and grooming responsibilities.

what we train

We specifically train tasks that benefit mitigating PTSD with some mobility inclusion such as:

  • Nightmare alerts
  • Anxiety alerts
  • Retrieving (medication / phone / adaptive equipment)
  • Minimal bracing for mobility support
  • Operating Handicap Door Switches
  • Deep Pressure Therapy

Kim Fortenberry (Marines & Army) with his service dog Liberty (Class of 2019) during their immersion training session.

Join The Pack &
Better The Life of a Veteran

Give monthly, and you’ll join a passionate community of people invested in helping our veterans and canines.

Become Part of The Pack

Operation Sidekick Gear

Profits from these goods directly fund Operation Sidekick and help us grow.

Veterans & Pit Bull Tees

Available in Charcoal, Military Green & Grey

Select Options
Veteran & Pit Bulls Tanks

Available in Lilac, Pink & Grey

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Trucker Hat

The Official Hat of Operation Sidekick

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Volunteer Opportunities

How to help


Our Volunteer Handlers make puppy raising possible

Hands-on Impact

Take the leash and learn to lead a puppy to service


It takes each of us to make a difference for all of us - Jackie M.

Driving attention to need

Help shine a light on a community solution that requires a community to act


Possibility is born here - with sustainability

Relationship Goals

Help direct support to the program and cultivate those invested in making an impact


Be a Puppy Raiser and help raise, train, and socialize our Sidekicks with the help and guidance of our team. Experience not required, dedication a must.


Utilize your network to raise awareness about shelter overpopulation and veteran suicide to recruit help for the program.


Become a part of the fundraising team and help with grants, events such as our RescueMe 5k, and campaigns to continue the sustainability of our program.

Get Involved

How to help

Frequently Asked Questions

We’ve compiled some of the most asked questions we receive

I’m a Veteran – I Don’t Need a Dog Myself But Want to Help. What Can I do?2019-11-20T19:21:58-05:00


  • Become a puppy raiser and help raise and train the puppies/dogs for the program
  • Help network and spread awareness about the program
  • Fundraise

For more information, head over to our Volunteer Page and get started by filling out our volunteer form.

How can I get a Service Dog Through Operation Sidekick?2019-11-20T19:17:57-05:00

Operation Sidekick is a small program and we have a limited number of dogs available at any given time. We only take referrals at this time through veteran advocates such as Veterans Service Officers, Psychiatrists, Psychologists, and Therapists for their patients/clients. Given that a service dog is a form of medical treatment, the idea of adding a dog to a treatment plan should be discussed with a mental healthcare professional ahead of time.

Once it is decided that a service dog would be a good treatment option, the referring physician or representative can reach out to our Program Director, Sara Ondrako at sara@apbf.dog. At that time, an application will be submitted and a phone interview conducted to determine whether a Sidekick is both available and a good fit for the inquiring veteran and his/her family.

Can I Train My Own Service Dog Through Operation Sidekick?2019-11-20T19:20:59-05:00

No, with one exception.

Though it is perfectly possible to train your own service dog with the help of a trainer, if you are an individual needing the treatment provided by a service dog, it is incredibly challenging to provide the environment, confidence building, structure, and responsibilities that come with service dog training for PTSD. Training a service dog and using a service dog to mitigate a disability are very different from each other and it is ineffective to both use a dog and train a dog simultaneously.

The exception to this is if you already own a highly skilled service dog who will be nearing retirement, your symptoms are currently under control, and you understand that training a puppy to adulthood as a service dog is never a guarantee.

Why did APBF start Operation Sidekick?2019-11-20T19:19:48-05:00

Thousands of pit bulls are killed in shelters every week across the United States. These dogs have been plagued with a horrible stigma that is completely misaligned. They’ve been abused, abandoned, neglected, and stereotyped more than any other breed class of dogs. Yet, pit bull type dogs often come with not only an insatiable love for human attention, but also a work ethic that makes them highly trainable for service work such as PTSD mitigation.

Every day we lose 20 members of the military to suicide – the greatest risk factor to their suicidality being Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Two underserved populations. Two community crises. One common solution. We started this program to help decrease the veteran suicide rate and the unnecessary euthanasia of pit bull type dogs.

Where do our dogs come from?2019-11-20T19:18:24-05:00

Due to the high euthanasia rate of Pit Bulls in the public sheltering system, the American Pit Bull Foundation pulls pregnant females and newborn puppies with their mothers from shelters for Operation Sidekick. Part of our program mission is to reduce the euthanasia of an estimated 1200 Pit Bulls per day and by selecting these dogs, not only can we accomplish this, we can also set our dogs up for the best success in becoming service animals given the researched methodology we use.

Can I donate a dog for the program?2019-11-20T19:22:46-05:00

We do not take in privately owned surrenders or privately rescued dogs to train for service work. APBF follows proven methods for training as demonstrated by the respected service dog breeding and training community. With the exception of an unplanned, donated litter at the appropriate age, all of our dogs come from shelters. Even though a dog is a good dog, it does not mean that it is a good dog for service work.

What is the difference between a Therapy Dog, a Service Dog, and an Emotional Support Dog?2019-11-20T19:23:34-05:00

Therapy dogs can provide a variety of services to multiple people and/or groups of people, whereas service dogs provide specific services to one individual. Therapy dogs and Emotional Support Animals are not protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act, (also known as ADA) as service dogs are, though Emotional Support Animals are protected under housing regulations and the Air Carrier Access Act, (ACAA).  Therapy dogs do not have federal protections for access to transportation or public facilities.

Emotional Support Dogs are utilized to mitigate a variety of mental illnesses through companionship and affection.

Operation Sidekick is training service dogs, also known as assistance dogs, however, those dogs that show great potential in becoming therapy dogs over service dogs will be trained and certified as such. APBF uses therapy dogs in our educational efforts, including our Positive Pit Care School Program.

What happens to the dogs that don’t make it through the program?2019-11-20T19:24:07-05:00

Not every dog was built to be a service dog, despite how much training they have and how young we start. For our dogs that simply aren’t 100% cut out for the work involved in being a Sidekick, we will try to align them with a different community job that they may excel at, or, they may be placed for adoption through APBF’s Adoption Program.

How long does training take?2019-11-20T19:24:48-05:00

Most service dogs are ready to be paired and begin training with their permanent handler between 16 and 20 months of age. We start working with the puppies as early as day three after birth.

Can I adopt a service dog?2019-11-23T14:21:10-05:00

No. Service dogs are working dogs that need to be paired with a person to fulfill their duties. Dogs that are well-trained for service work, but do not meet our requirements for pairing with one of our veterans may be available for adoption but they will not be considered service dogs. OS Service dogs will be matched with clients entering the program that have a need for a service animal.

Is there a service dog standard that Operation Sidekick follows?2019-11-20T19:25:37-05:00

Yes! OS follows the guidelines of Assistance Dogs International which is a coalition of nonprofit service dog associations in place to ensure that high standards are met in training, education, and placement of service dogs. APBF is not a member of or affiliated with ADI, we simply believe in their standards in addition to ours.