New nonprofit to train service dogs for veterans, people with disabilities

Published 9:05 am Friday, November 12, 2021

NILES — A Niles nonprofit organization is enlisting the help of man’s best friend to help veteran and disabled families in the community.

Patricia Bickel is hard at work preparing to open her nonprofit, Scrapper’s Rescue Corp., 211 E. Main.

Scrapper’s Rescue is a consignment shop that will sell donated items, with proceeds to go toward rescuing animals, training suitable dogs to become service dogs for veterans and the disabled, and educating the public on the benefits, needs and costs of service dogs.

Service dogs are animals trained to take a specific action to assist a person with their disability when required. The task the dog performs is directly related to their person’s disability, such as guide dogs helping blind and visually impaired people navigate their surroundings.

The nonprofit owes its existence to Bickel’s son, Tim “Scrapper” Heiser. After being unable to serve in the military due to his epilepsy, Scrapper founded Scrapper’s Rescue [formerly Elkhart’s Furry Friends] in 2009 as a means to rescue animals and help local veterans and the disabled with ramps, food and other services.

When Scrapper died in 2014, Bickel founded Scrapper’s Rescue Corp., a nonprofit public charity in honor of her son, in Elkhart.

“We rescue dogs and train them as service dogs,” Bickel said. “If veteran or disabled families need help with their mortgages or have other needs, we do what we can to help. It’s all community based and everything, whether it be financial or the services we provide, stays in the community.”

Patricia moved to Niles four years ago and spent two years searching for a suitable space to relocate their nonprofit before settling in downtown. Bickel hopes Scrapper’s Rescue will be officially open before Thanksgiving weekend and said the initial responses to her nonprofit have been “paw-sitive.”

“We’ve been received very well,” she said. “We received a lot of responses during the Halloween event, and they’ve all been positive.”

One of her goals is to educate the community regarding service dogs and everything that goes into training and caring for them. Currently, Bickel has three apprentice trainers receiving training from her, training which typically takes more than one year to complete.

“People don’t realize the work that goes into training a service dog,” she said. “It costs $10,000 depending on what is required. Every day, we’re training. Seven days a week, 365 days a year. We train indoors, outdoors and other places people typically go to. We make sure dogs are there for that individual.”

Because of the high costs associated with service dogs, Scrapper’s Rescue aims to make those costs as close to free as possible.

“We do our best to take care of vet bills, food and other needs,” Heiser said. “We’ve started teaming up with area organizations. The more the community helps each other, the better off we will be.”

Bickel looks forward to working in Niles and is hoping to bring new staff into the fold.

“Right now, we have 10 dogs in training with three new dogs coming in,” she said. “I will be 70 next year. I would love to have six assistant trainers to focus on training while I can focus on sponsors and fundraisers.”

Readers interested in working with Scrapper’s Rescue or donating items can reach out via the “Scrapper’s Rescue Corp.” Facebook page, call (269) 262-4130 or message Bickel directly on Facebook.