Pam Juliano pushes a wheelchair to train Dancer to get used to them, as Ceil Barclay looks on. | Supplied photo by Jack Elster
Updated: January 13, 2014 7:27AM
Ceil Barclay has worn many hats in the last 30 years, but none has been more important to her than her work with the U.S. military.
“I’m not going to forget our veterans,” Barclay said from her New Lenox home.
As the department legislative chair for the State of Illinois VFW Ladies Auxiliary, Barclay works daily to improve the lives of current and former military members.
“My motto this year is ‘We’re here for our veterans. We won’t let you down,’” Barclay said.
Her inspiration was a quote from Abraham Lincoln in which Lincoln said he would not disappoint a friend who believed in him. Barclay counts the military among her friends.
The legislation foremost in her sights these days is a federal bill regarding sexual assault in the military. She is following the call to action by U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., the sponsor of the Military Justice Improvement Act (S.967), which in part calls for sexual assault cases to be taken over by “independent, trained, professional military prosecutors” rather than subject to the current “in-house chain of command,” she said.
Barclay said many sexual abuse cases in the military go unreported for fear of retaliation.
“We’re making our politicians accountable that they are not going to forget our veterans,” Barclay said.
Barclay and her husband, Paul, who is retired after 30 years with the Cook County Sheriff’s police and is a Navy veteran who did two tours of duty in Vietnam, have belonged to New Lenox VFW Post 9545 from the time they moved to New Lenox in 1986.
Barclay has been very active in the post’s Ladies Auxiliary, most recently as the district legislative chairwoman from 2010 to 2012 and the district chaplain from 2011 to 2013. She has participated in the collection of items for the troops in Afghanistan, attended parades and picnics for the vets, and conducts bingo every first Tuesday of the month at Post 9545, among many other activities.
Barclay and Post 9545 recently were involved in the Pizza 4 Patriots Program, which sent pizza to the troops overseas.
Her most recent endeavor to benefit veterans is probably closest to her heart because it involves a passion of the entire Barclay family, including their son Scott, 30.
The Barclays’ 18-month-old German shepherd, Dancer — one of seven German shepherds the Barclays have raised over the years — was trained for 17 weeks as a therapy dog under the direction of Pam Juliano, owner of the Blitzen Canine Academy in Frankfort.
When Dancer achieved certification, on “the good omen of Pearl Harbor Day,” Barclay said, the German shepherd became eligible to work with veterans as a therapy dog.
It is a bittersweet time for the Barclays. Dancer’s certification came just two days prior to the third anniversary of the family losing their beloved 4-year-old German shepherd, Prancer, in 2010 in a heavy snowstorm.
Barclay said Prancer would have been the perfect candidate to serve as a therapy dog but, sadly, she has not yet had that opportunity.
The Barclays have never given up hope of Prancer’s return and continue to search for her through various state and national agencies as well as with the help of local and private groups.
“As we visit with our veterans, I will still feel Prancer’s spirit with us, always,” Barclay said.
Barclay said her skills as a 27-year therapist working in the field of post-traumatic stress disorder, high-risk suicide, grief, dying, death and loss with veterans and others will be enhanced by “the little red lion,” as the veterans call Dancer because she boasts a “mane” of red fur when her coat is full.
The time Barclay and her family, including Dancer, spend with the veterans at Hines VA Hospital in Manteno is time well-spent, Barclay said.
“How can you say ‘no’ to the ones who are fighting to secure our freedom?” Barclay said. “Just my small way of giving back to those who have given so much for us all.”