The Jim Wells County 4-H hosted a dance at the Orange Grove Rifle club Friday as a benefit for Eli's Fund, the canine who served with Pfc. Colton W. Rusk, who was killed in Afghanistan in 2010.

Money generated by the admission to the dance, the pre-sale tickets, concessions for attendees and a donation jar at the entrance all went to the fund. According to Jim Wells County 4-H Director Barbie Wymore, the proceeds from the dance totaled $1,322.04.

The money from the dance added to the $700 raised in two previous bake sales bring the total up to $2,022.04, exceeding the District 12 goal of $1,500. Even though they've already gone past the county 4-H goal of surpassing the district goal, Mrs. Wymore says that they are not going to stop raising money for Eli's Fund. The 4-H group will continue to raise as much as they can before the Texas State 4-H Round Up that runs from June 6-10.

Kathy and Darrell Rusk were in attendance with Eli who spent the evening roaming around the dance hall getting petted and trying to get bits of cake from revelers provided by the 4-H bake sale. Eli was dressed in his vest that he wears for special events and was not shy when it came to the crowd. It's this easy going nature that has helped the Rusk family for more than five years since the passing of their son Colton Rusk.

“That's the last thing that Colton touched and loved, and then (Eli) was given to us and he doesn't replace our son but he does help us and we help him,” said Mrs. Rusk, “As much comfort as he gives us, we also give to him. There are days were I really miss Colton and Eli is there to pick me up, but there are also times when he feels sad and needs us to give him attention.”

Eli's help extends to others through the puppies that he's sired. According to Rusk, Eli has been bred three times with several puppies going to be trained as service animals to assist veterans or given to the Marines that served with Eli and Colton. “Eli helps us to keep going by allowing us to continue to tell Colton's story. If we give up and fall apart, we won't be able to tell our son's story,” said Mrs. Rusk.

Dr. Mike Moore was present at the dance as well. Moore is Eli's veterinarian as well as the man responsible for creating Eli's Fund. While Eli's care will be paid for through the remainder of his life, other animals may need major medical care and owners may not be able to pay for these services. Eli's fund was created to help them and has three groups of animals that it serves:

Active duty service member's pets with severe ailments. Retired military service dogs. Service animals for disabled veterans. “It's a grass roots program with collection boxes in several businesses in the area. Kids put their pennies, nickels, quarters, and dimes in and I think they'd be amazed to see where there money is actually going,” Moore said.

The money collected for Eli's fund goes entirely to the animals that it is pledged to help and was set up through the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine (CVM). Moore gave a $5,000 donation to the Texas A&M Foundation to start the fund in honor of Eli and Colton.

“When we came back from the Vietnam War, we were treated badly, spat upon. Many of us vowed we'd never let that happen again,” Moore said, “This is a way to make sure that Colton and Eli aren't forgotten. The worst thing for any veteran is for their sacrifice to be forgotten.”

Moore has a network of other veterinarians that can assist animals and tap into Eli's Fund to help care for the dogs. However the fund only goes so far and there are other plans for more fundraising efforts, such as a skeet shoot tentatively planned for next month and more bake sales and events currently being planned by the 4-H.

For more information on Eli's Fund, call Chastity Carrigan with the Texas A&M Foundation at 1(800)392-3310.