Soldier On Service Dogs, a nonprofit organization in Fayetteville, Arkansas is dedicated to pairing trained service dogs with veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder or a traumatic brain injury. Volunteers first raise and train the puppies for a year and then the organization matches them up to qualified veterans, free of charge.
Though some organizations with similar missions custom train rescue dogs for veterans, this nonprofit trains British Labradors, standard poodles, labradoodles and German shepherds because these breeds are known for their even temperament. The dogs are taught to behave and pay attention to their veteran in any setting, whether they are in the home or out in public. People can tell when these dogs are on the job through their “Service Dog in Training” vests which means business, not play time.
Richard Ellett, a veteran with PTSD, was the first to receive a service dog through Soldier On. His companion Tiger is a brindle-colored pit bull-Labrador mix that helps him attend weekly training classes and make appearances at fundraising events.
“When I have a flashback in bed, she wakes me up. If I forget to take my medicine, which is quite often, she comes over and nudges me to remind me. She bugs the hell outta me until I take it, too. She lets me know when there’s danger around. And she helps with my balance. My balance is really lousy, so sometimes I fall down, and she’ll get right up under my chest and go stiff as a board so I can push up on her shoulders. I feel better with her. I feel safer,” Ellett said.
From those a part of the nonprofit organization, to the volunteers and the veterans who are finding new ways to grow with a dog by their side, Soldier On is making the lives of all those affected even brighter.
Founder Angie Pratt said, “You or I can’t look at a person and see PTSD or a TBI. There are physical manifestations to these ‘invisible injuries’ that people don’t necessarily notice, but dogs can. They know when you’re becoming anxious. They recognize when you’re about to have a seizure. Each person’s physical and mental issues are unique, so in getting these veterans the best dad-gum dog we can get them, that makes the puppy raisers extremely important to what we do.”
To read the full story on Soldier On’s impact in the Fayetteville community, head on over to http://www.nwaonline.com/news/2015/oct/01/sit-stay-serve-20151001/?features.