Everyone knows Michael Audette’s service dog Miko, resplendent in a camouflage vest made from the shirt of an injured comrade. Two years ago, another veteran asked Audette to make a similar vest for his dog. One vest became two, and then another, and another, and to date, Audette has made over 160 vests for veterans’ service dogs and canine companions.
Audette served in the U.S. Navy from 1978 to 1998. While serving, he suffered a traumatic brain injury and is classified 100% disabled, but he has never let his disability stop him from being active. He plays sled hockey and wheelchair basketball and he’s a hand cyclist. Several years ago, after competing in the Vermont City Marathon, he was invited to join a team competing in the Marine Corps Marathon. At that race he learned about the Allied Forces Foundation; a joint British-American group whose mission is to raise funds for wounded Allied comrades and raise awareness of the challenges faced by injured soldiers and their families. Audette became one of the organization’s first board members.
Audette has been involved in a number of endeavors to help veterans, including the Gold Star Family Experience, which takes veterans’ widows and their families on all-expense-paid trips to Disney World.
Now he is thoroughly immersed in his project for service dogs; something near and dear to his heart since Miko, his long-haired Chihuahua, warns him of upcoming seizures. After getting that first request for a vest, Audette began collecting combat-worn uniforms for other canines. He has been sewing since he was a child, and has several sewing machines in his home.
These days, he spends two to three hours a day making dog vests. He has to buy the buckles and straps and has purchased some uniforms at thrift shops, but most clothing is donated. Audette does not charge for the vests but will accept donations to cover his costs.
After making a jacket for a veteran’s German Shepard, Audette got a letter from the man’s wife. She said she didn’t want to sound ungrateful, but when the couple went out, the husband would wear his dress blues and she would wear a nice outfit, but the dog was wearing camouflage. Audette made a dress blue jacket for the dog with ribbons and medals, and it was so popular that he has made nine more in that style.
He is starting to get requests from other countries, which necessitates acquiring uniforms from those service units. All the requests come from referrals, since Audette does not have a website for his work. “It’s not a moneymaker for me,” he said. “My reward is the letters I get back from people thanking me.”
“I can’t work,” Audette said. “I can walk but I mostly use a wheelchair, so I try to keep busy through sports and the Allied Forces Foundation. This vest business took off more than I thought it would.”
Audette may not charge for his work, but it fulfills him in other ways. “This is my purpose in life,” he said. “I want to take care of veterans and their families be it through sports, Disney vacations or their service dogs, to bring some kind of normalcy into their lives. It’s my calling.”