The Grizz Project founders start new nonprofit to match companions

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The founders of The Grizz Project of Magdalena Aiding Animals Inc. have started an ambitious new project to match up trained companion animals with people who need them.

Marguerite Sweeney, who founded The Grizz Project nonprofit with some help from her husband, Socorro County Sheriff's Department Deputy Ed Sweeney, has been working with a local dog trainer over the past few months to start a new nonprofit organization. The organization will train homeless animals to be companion animals that can be placed with seniors, those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and others who need a furry companion.

Marguerite has been working with Jan Gribble, a dog trainer in Escondida, to train homeless animals.

"She's one of the best dog trainers I've ever seen," Marguerite said.

Marguerite hopes the new nonprofit, which will be a separate entity from The Grizz Project, will attract many interested volunteers. The new nonprofit does not yet have a name.

Ed explained companion animals are not service animals; they are basically trained to follow simple commands and to not run away when a person takes them outside. He said their presence is therapeutic for mental health patients, the elderly, people with PTSD and many others.

Ed said the project is brand new and the Sweeneys are still researching what they need to do, such as what training is needed to meet certain criteria. They will also have to survey potential pet parents to become familiar with their needs in order to match them up with the appropriately trained pet.

Ed mentioned an elderly woman who recently approached The Grizz Project in search of a dog. In visiting with her, the Sweeneys discovered a cat would be a better choice in her particular situation. They were able to match the woman with a cat, and she was pleased with the match. Other Grizz volunteers got involved and help her with her cat.

Ed said not only did the woman provide a home for the cat, but the cat also opened up social connections for the woman so she does not have to be so alone all the time.

The Sweeneys hope the new nonprofit will also fill that kind of need. They want to train homeless animals to be good companions, as well as open social connections for the people who adopt. Ed acknowledged it is a very ambitious direction to take. It will be a lot of work, and very time consuming.

"It's really an ambitious project, but I think we can pull it off," Ed said. "… It's a win-win. It helps us place more animals, and it helps people too. It's an opportunity to give back to the community."

Marguerite said she had been working with Gribble a couple of months on the new companion animal project when, coincidentally, Ed was told about a service dog that needed a place to go. A woman who works for the state Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management heard about the service dog from a friend, and the woman knew about The Grizz Project because one of her co-workers had worked with Ed. The woman contacted The Grizz Project because she could not find any group in Albuquerque that matched service dogs with those who need them.

Ed said the service dog, which can "open doors and do all sorts of things," is still in a foster home with Grizz volunteers while the Sweeneys look for a forever home. The dog is more than a companion animal, but the issue is similar; they seek a forever home with someone who needs that particular dog's skills. The Sweeneys were unable to find any organization in New Mexico that serves as a clearinghouse to connect service animals with the people who need them.

"That's an area we're lacking in the state," Ed said.

The Sweeneys have been doing what they can to help animals for well over 25 years, but The Grizz Project was not formalized as a nonprofit until 2010. The day Ed retired from Naval Criminal Investigative Service in 2007, they moved from San Diego to their home outside Magdalena, the "No More Bad Days Ranch."

The Grizz Project was named after Grizz, a red Doberman pinscher the Sweeneys adopted from a San Diego animal shelter in 2000. Marguerite felt an immediate connection to the dog.

"He was my soul mate," she said.

Marguerite's efforts with The Grizz Project are all made in Grizz's honor. She said Grizz has helped hundreds of animals by continuing to motivate her.

"Honoring Grizz and his ilk is what The Grizz Project is all about," she said.

Marguerite said The Grizz Project aims to stop animals from suffering, and to solve whatever other problems arise. The nonprofit actively promotes spaying and neutering. Grizz also buys pet food for poor families when they can't afford it, as well as helps them with vaccination and other medical costs whenever possible.

Over the past few years, The Grizz Project has worked to collect hundreds of homeless puppies from the streets of Magdalena.

Marguerite said The Grizz Project brings an education program to local schools — Be Aware, Responsible and Kind to animals, or B.A.R.K. Among other topics, B.A.R.K. teaches how fast a parked car can heat to oven temperatures — so don't ever leave pets in one.

To volunteer with The Grizz Project or to help with the new companion animal matching program, contact Marguerite Sweeney at 575-418-8647 or wildhorsenm@hughes.net. Tax deductible monetary donations can be sent to The Grizz Project, P.O. Box 307, Magdalena, NM 87825.