Hometown Hero: Lauren Fins

Published: Sep. 5, 2022 at 3:52 PM EDT
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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - Lauren Fins donated more than 1,000 hours of her time last year training service dogs to help veterans and other members of the community.

“I don’t have a cookie-cutter program where you do these five classes and that’s it. I learn about family, I learn about the dog and I go from there.”

And Lauren Fins is especially specialized when working with special dog-training cases.

“It can take up to two years or more to get a fully trained service dog, from an 8-week old puppy to a fully trained service dog because of some of the tasks. The dog might have to be able to help someone off the ground, pull a wheelchair, pick up a prosthetic, that kind of stuff.”

Fins trains dogs for SD Gunner Fund, a local non-profit that provides service dogs to people who need them, like Stephen Sokolowsi, who deals with PTSD after deploying to the Middle East three times with the 173rd Airborne Brigade.

“She’s really helped us, helped him get to where he is now, where he’s only a year and a half old and he’s fantastic. I go everywhere with him and he behaves extremely well,” said Sokolowki.

Fins has been training dogs for 10 years, working with everything from family pets like Root Beer.

“It made a big difference having her come into the home to be able to take care of him. She has very good rapport with them and they respond to her in kind,” said Mertha Maddox.

...to show dogs like Hazel.

“Lauren is great with dogs, very laid back and they seem very relaxed around her. And when she talks to you, she talks with you, not at you. It’s a conversation and it makes it a great training experience,” said Donna Merkle.

But she finds it particularly rewarding turning a young puppy into a trusted companion.

“We really work together to mold that dog into a service dog that you can take to a baseball game or to Disney World, to work with them. It’s really amazing, and we have all different breeds and all different people.”

Fins was recognized for her service last month when this WTOC Hometown Hero received The President’s Volunteer Service Award for the 1,000 training hours she spent with SD Gunner last year.

“Right now, we currently have 44 dogs and their owners are all military, first responders, children or veterans. And the training is at no cost to the owner.”

“I am so proud of Lauren. She does a lot of work in the community, and the fact that she got this, I’m proud that I not only use her as a trainer but I call her a friend. She’s just awesome.”

“It’s absolutely deserved. Everything she’s done, she’s extremely professional, knowledgeable and someone that isn’t just an instructor or a trainer, she turns into a friend for everyone who goes through the service that SD Gunner provides for us.”