There was a noble tribute this week for hero humans and hero dogs just a block from the U.S. Capitol. The famous, powerful and political gathered to celebrate K9s for Warriors, a nonprofit that pairs rescue dogs with military veterans who must deal with post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury. Among the many who attended was retired USMC Captain Jason Haag and Axel, a splendid German Shepherd who was there for him in some very dark moments.
Captain Haag was deployed to Iraq twice and Afghanistan once; he was wounded and survived both small arms fire and an improvised explosive device. Coming home was a challenge: The vet was on multiple anxiety medications when he finally reached out to K9s for Warriors. It was a timely moment for the dog too as Axel was only days away from being put down.
And about those pups — Bo, Liberty, Maverick, Justice and all the rest — they are, by nature, service dogs, carefully trained to help with recovery and provide steadfast companionship to their vet partners. About 95 percent are rescue or shelter dogs. “We rescue the dogs, they rescue the warriors,” notes the group, which has paired up 160 warrior-canine teams so far. The program itself brings the vets to train with their dogs in Florida for three weeks, complete with free accommodations and meals. A wish list is particularly compelling: Donations cover such things as service dog vests and hands-free leashes, dog bowls and toys, welcome boxes, plus new bedding for arriving warriors.
The program has created some permanent bonds.
“Did you know you were made just for me, by a God whose work is mighty and ever so powerful? He did not miss one detail when He chose YOU to heal my hurts!” wrote one veteran, in an open letter to a canine companion. “Did you know your unique personality, demeanor, character and your gentle spirit would heal wounds that were believed by me to never heal? Did you know you would be this loved, cared for and adored; and did you know your faithful endurance would be recognized by the people who love me the most in this life?”
Another vet credits his dog for saving him from suicide.
“I went to grab my pistol, and before my hand even touched it, my service dog started barking nonstop, which is not like him. He was jumping in my face and wrapping his head around the arm I was going to grab the gun with. When I finally pulled away, he stopped barking and just stared at me,” the vet recalls.
Find information about the organization here: K9sforWarriors.org.
And among those who came to honor the pups and their partners: Republican Reps. Gus M. Bilirakis, Mike Coffman, Ryan K. Zinke and Martha McSally; CBS chief White House correspondent Major Garrett; the inimitable Irish tenor Anthony Kearns; and retired USAF Brigadier General Steve Ritchie, an ace fighter pilot who flew 800 combat hours and 339 missions in the Vietnam War.
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