NORTH BERWICK – Sitting on a bench, Moriah Delisle tapped her lap and made eye contact with the dog in front of her.

“Lap up,” Delisle said to Liza, a service dog in training.

With some more encouragement, the dog laid her paws on Delisle’s lap.

“Good girl,” Delisle said, rewarding Liza with a treat.

The command is one of more than 60 that Liza will learn in the coming months as a Mutts With A Mission dog.

Inspired by a cairn terrier named Angus, the nonprofit organization takes rescue “mutts” like Liza and prepares them for a mission — to be mobility assistance or psychiatric service dogs for an American veteran or wounded service member.

Five years ago, Staff Sgt. Brooke Corson was stationed at Fort Benning, Ga., as a supply sergeant when Angus came into her life. While Angus was a small dog, Corson quickly realized he played a big role when drill sergeants started to visit the pup frequently as a way to relax.

That prompted Corson to combine her years of dog training experience with a desire to help those who have served their country, founding Mutts With A Mission Inc. with her husband and brother in 2008.

“This is our way of giving back. It’s our way of saying thank you,” Corson said.

These service dogs can help service members who have debilitating injuries or post-traumatic stress disorder, or veterans assimilating to civilian life.

As Delisle worked with Liza in the yard of Corson’s North Berwick home Friday, Corson said the “lap up” command creates tactile stimulation. She said the pressure can calm a veteran and ground him or her in reality.

Dogs are also trained to search the house upon returning home to ensure a stranger isn’t inside or to create personal space by moving in front of their handler.

“I talk to veterans and listen to what a lot of them have to say,” Corson said, which helps her tailor the training specifically for their needs.

After six to nine months of training, Corson estimated the service dogs are worth between $16,000 and $20,000. The current placement fee is $500, but ultimately Corson wants the dogs to be free.

Mutts With A Mission has trained and placed two therapy dogs so far.

Joxer, an Airedale mix, is an overly friendly dog who would not have made a good service dog, Corson said. Instead, the pup is carrying out the organization’s mission in a different way with Jim Elliott of Tennessee, a retired psychologist.

Elliott said since bringing Joxer home last August, the dog has joined him working with elderly Alzheimer’s patients, as well as those with mental disabilities.

“I think pet therapy is beneficial,” Elliott said. “(Joxer) has a spring in his gait, and he makes people laugh.”

Corson said she is always looking for more dogs. For every dog selected, Corson said she tests as many as 20 dogs to assess their temperament. To train more dogs, she also hopes to recruit more dog raisers.

Corson is also welcoming more veterans and wounded service members to apply for a dog.

“Just because we don’t have a dog for a soldier (right now) doesn’t mean they shouldn’t apply,” she said.

Staff Writer Emma Bouthillette can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

[email protected]