â??Having a service dog enables someone to have a lot of freedom without the dog, they wouldnâ??t be able to have. Heâ??s an item to make life easier. He works as a cane or a wheelchair. Heâ??s there to help the veteran do something he couldnâ??t do before. But on top of that, heâ??s a companion as well, and a lifelong one,â?? said Michelle Kenvelvaard, an experienced dog trainer who has worked with dogs used for veterans.
There are programs all over the country to help veterans readjust back to life after the military. However, each veteran reacts differently, has different struggles, and looks for help in different outlets. But one of the most successful programs to alleviate stress and anxiety seems to be pairing veterans with furry four legged friends who become life partners.
Kayla Bradley and her husband experienced firsthand the powerful effects that a dog could have on a veteranâ??s life.
â??If heâ??s too stressed out, Sadie will actually give him a command, which is a tug with her nose, to leave. If people start crowding him, Sadie will actually put her body long ways so that there is a greater divide between him and the crowd. And when he gets nightmares, she comes in and wakes him up,â?? said Bradley.
â??There isnâ??t a lot of science on why dogs can understand stress level or predict seizures, but we definitely know that they can and that theyâ??re able,â?? said Kenvelvaard.
Organizations like Patriot PAWS provide service dogs to disabled veterans in order to help restore physical and emotional independence. She said that veterans are on a long waiting list to be paired with a pup and asked to give a 10-week commitment once chosen. They then come to their Rockwall location and go through a training process with the dogs until the dog chooses them. Meaning, none of the staff pairs the dog with the veteran; the dog and veteran choose each other.
â??There was a young gentleman that was in his twenties that came in here a few weeks ago and he had severe PTSD with traumatic brain injury. Today, because the dog is right there with him, nudging him to play, heâ??s not playing with his children, they play hid and seek every night with the dog. Itâ??s something you canâ??t really explain, you have to witness it,â?? said Lori Steven, executive director of Patriot PAWS.
Itâ??s a bond that is not only visible to close family members and relatives, but even to those who provide and train the service dogs.
â??We made friends with a veteran that was a Pearl Harbor survivor. One day, he got Frank, my dog, in there and he got him in his lap. And he wouldnâ??t speak to me, he just grabbed Frank and got him up in his face and told him how much he loved him and how he wanted God to forgive him for the things he had done and seen. And when that happened, it made all the money and the time that I had put into therapy service just become non existent,â?? said Tamara Warren, a local therapy dog owner.
Itâ??s a bond that continues to save the lives of the men and women who have made a career out of risking theirs.