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Pit bulls slated for euthanasia are given new lives with veterans

Operation Sidekick is rescuing pit bulls from euthanasia in overcrowded animal shelters and training them to become service animals for veterans.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A litter of pit bulls rescued from an overcrowded animal shelter has found a new purpose in life through a Charlotte organization, Operation Sidekick.

The nonprofit's owner and founder, Sara Ondrako, rescued the mother and her babies just weeks before they were set to be euthanized. 

"We take basically a discarded population of dogs that are slated for euthanasia, and we give them a purpose, a community purpose and service," Ondrako said. 

Ondrako's foundation, The American Pitbull Foundation, encompasses four main missions: Promoting responsible dog ownership, outreach, advocacy and education. 

Click here to donate to Operation Sidekick. 

Operation Sidekick is Ondrako's "shelter dog to service dog program" where rescued pit bulls are trained and then paired with a veteran in the community.

"So Operation sidekick is about bridging that gap and bringing these two creatures together to help one another," Ondrako explained.

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Ondrako said she chose pit bulls specifically because they are the most abused, abandoned and neglected breed class out there. 

"More than anything else, there's so eager to please, "Ondrako said.
We have bred them through the years to be very human dependent."

Ondrako said she gets all of her pit bulls for her program from overcrowded animal shelters.

Click here to donate to Operation Sidekick. 

"We go pull that animal from the shelter and off of the euthanasia list and then we put them into foster homes and mom gets adopted out," Ondrako explained. 

Her program, Ondrako explained, is not only benefitting the veterans and the dogs they are matched with, but also the whole breed itself. 

"This program destigmatizes pit bulls," Ondrako said. "I know they're changing the stigma because they're out there in the community doing this really, really good work." 

Jackson Navarra, a puppy raiser for Operation Sidekick, just joined the team but said he loves working with the dogs. 

"It's like a guilt-free indulgence," Navarra said. "I know these puppies are working for a good cause and they're going to help people and that feels really good." 

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Navarra said one of the reasons he loves working with Operation Sidekick is the relationship he forms with the dogs. 

"I think in most ways, our relationship to animals or us taking care of them. And with service dogs and these guys specifically, it's a kind of a rare instance where they can take care of us," Navarra said. 

Ondrako said the best way to help Operation Sidekick is by donating to them. She said it takes about $10,000 per puppy to raise each one. 

"And we donate our dogs for free. So the only way we're able to run this program is through donations," Ondrako explained. 

Click here to donate to Operation Sidekick. 

Contact Meilin at mtompkins@wcnc.com and follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

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