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Leading the way: Clear Path for Veterans works to heal wounds of war

Earl Fontenot, Melissa Spicer, Melinda Sorrentino and Ray Toenniessen stand with Dr. Steve Kinne (kneeling) at Clear Path for Veterans in Chittenango. Kinne is training the dog on the right, Bode, to become an instructional dog for the program.

Earl Fontenot, Melissa Spicer, Melinda Sorrentino and Ray Toenniessen stand with Dr. Steve Kinne (kneeling) at Clear Path for Veterans in Chittenango. Kinne is training the dog on the right, Bode, to become an instructional dog for the program. Photo by Amanda Seef.

— There’s no greater bond than between man and his dog — except, maybe, between a military veteran and his service dog.

That relationship is being fostered at Clear Path for Veterans, a non-profit organization that aims to help veterans returning from war re-acclimate to American life. It provides Dogs2Vets, among other programs, to help re-acclimate and reintegrate veterans into their daily lives after returning to the States.

“In a general sense, this place is geared toward healing the emotion wounds of war. Some of those have labels, some don't."

Clear Path’s expansive property sits on the line where Chittenango meets Manlius, nestled atop a hill with a tranquil view of the land below. On clear days, visitors can see for miles.

“I’ve been sitting here staring at the fog,” said Earl Fontenot. Fontenot served in Iraq with the U.S. Army in 2006, and works as the veterans caseworker in Congresswoman Ann Marie Buerkle’s office. “When I got back, I shut myself out for a few years, and I didn’t do much. This and my job, that has helped a lot. As much as I can be around other veterans, it does help a lot. “I think it’s better to come here rather than going to talk to a social worker once a month.”

Clear Path opened in September, officially, working from private-donations and grants to provide the services.

“Supporting our veterans when they come home is much more than yellow ribbons,” said Melissa Spicer, a co-founder of the organization. “There’s a disconnect between veterans coming home and what the community can do for them. If we really listen to them, we can provide them with what they need.”

“There’s a very personal side to this whole thing,” added co-founder Melinda Sorrentino, Spicer’s sister. “We all have bumper stickers supporting the troops, but this is a very close connection to these people.”

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