Sharon Boehmer’s career has been dedicated to serving those in need.

She’s an Army veteran who twice worked in administrative roles at the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, including Child Protective Services.

Since 2007, Boehmer has been the lone employee of Sarpy County Human Services, working as its director to provide aid to those experiencing homelessness or financial trouble.

“I assist families throughout difficult times,” she said.

These days, Boehmer is getting some assistance of her own. Her helper? An adorable golden retriever named Radar.

The two were paired in June by Patriot Service Dogs, a Florida-based group that provides animals to veterans who have PTSD or mobility challenges. Boehmer has a disability stemming from an accident during her 10 years in the Army and Army Reserves, where she worked as a military police officer and financial specialist.

When he’s on duty at Boehmer’s office near the Sarpy County Courthouse, Radar is all business. Sporting a bright red vest and a harness that rests across his snout, the pooch can activate light switches, pick up a dropped credit card from the floor or comfort Boehmer if he sees that she’s in distress.

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He can open and shut doors or drawers with ropes tied to them and gently take shoes and socks off feet, and he knows to find help if someone has fallen or is in danger. In all, Radar knows about 85 commands.

“He’s trained; I’m training,” Boehmer joked of the ongoing process of learning everything Radar knows.

Boehmer had been exploring getting a service dog for a few years when she and her husband saw a national news report one morning about Patriot Service Dogs. A year and a half after submitting her application, Boehmer traveled to Florida earlier this summer for several long days of learning the complexities of interacting with Radar.

The pups of Patriot Service Dogs — now in its tenth year — begin their training in prison. At eight weeks old, the dogs are sent to the Lowell Correctional Center in Marion County, Florida, where 32 female inmates teach them the commands and actions they will need to be effective.

On weekends, the dogs go to foster homes, where families provide them with experiences they can’t receive in prison, like riding on buses and planes or going to crowded public places.

Julie Sanderson, CEO of Patriot Service Dogs, said the organization works hard to make sure that a human and dog are a good match. The size and personality of the dog and the needs of the human all play into the process.

“I think Sharon’s placement with Radar was ideal,” Sanderson said. “They’re both kind of quiet, and I think it just works really well. ... He’s a good boy.”

Sanderson said the question of how much a service dog costs is difficult to answer. Each of the Patriot dogs is sponsored, which provides $5,000 for veterinarian care. Boehmer’s only cost was travel to and from Florida. Many service dog groups list $25,000 as the average cost.

Radar’s highly specialized training differentiates him from many of his canine peers, but when the vest comes off, he’s sweet and silly, ready to play with his favorite toys — a small stuffed moose that Boehmer calls “the baby” and a green ball.

He also has found friends in Boehmer’s grandchildren — only when he’s off duty, of course.

Boehmer comes from a family of veterans and said she’s grateful to have found an organization that’s dedicated to them.

She was eight months pregnant with her son Tim when she was called up for deployment during the Persian Gulf War. The plan was for Boehmer to spend one month with her newborn before departing, but at three weeks old, he had to have emergency surgery, so the military cut her orders.

Years later, Tim Boehmer, now 28, paid it forward. He served for seven years in the Air Force and was deployed several times to Afghanistan. Boehmer’s husband, his grandfather and uncles on both sides of the family have military histories.

“We’re a home full of military veterans and also police officers,” she said.

Boehmer encouraged any veteran interested in a service dog to reach out to Patriot Service Dogs.

Said Boehmer: “They will do everything that they can to get (you) a service dog.”

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reece.ristau@owh.com, 402-444-1127

@reecereports

Reece covers Sarpy County for The World-Herald. He's a born-and-raised Nebraskan and UNL grad who spent time in Oklahoma and Virginia before returning home. Follow him on Twitter @reecereports. Phone: 402-444-1127

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