MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (WBOY) — Hearts of Gold has been training service dogs for 15 years, and the program’s work recently paid off with a $200,000 donation, the largest individual contribution in the organization’s history. The funds will be used to purchase a van equipped to safely transport dogs, as well as on-site kennels at the Hearts of Gold training facility.

The donation comes from Jennifer Mason of Alma, West Virginia, and in addition to providing kennels and a transport van, also establishes a dedicated fund for the expansion and growth of Hearts of Gold.

Hearts of Gold helps veterans with both physical and mental injuries through its service dog program, a program that is free of charge to veterans.

Jennifer Gieseke and her service dog Lily-Rose at the Hearts of Gold training facility at the WVU Animal Science Farm (WBOY image).

Jennifer Gieseke was in the U.S. Air Force for about four years until sustaining a back injury. Gieseke first sought a service dog following a suicide attempt and hospitalization at the Louis A. Johnson VA Medical center, where she was comforted by another veteran’s service dog.

“Service dogs save lives. I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for my service dog and the opportunity to work towards getting one. It’s a great program, and if you’re a veteran, definitely go and apply to get a dog, they’ll work with you. It’s difficult, but it’s worth it,” Gieseke said.

Gieseke can now go to appointments, drive a car, and live her life again thanks to her experience with the program, and the service animals she has come to work with.

Hearts of Gold was founded by Jean Meade, owner of the Cheat Lake Animal Clinic and WVU graduate, who wanted students to be able to learn bout and play a role in the training of new service dogs. Roughly 100 students assist with the early stages of training each year as part of their coursework.