NORTH TEXAS (CBSDFW.COM) – There was an emotional graduation ceremony held in North Texas on Friday. Three trained service dogs, and their new owners, received diplomas as official members of Patriot PAWS.
The Service Dogs organization pairs trained rescue dogs with severely wounded American veterans. There’s a general consensus that the partnership is giving a second chance to everyone involved.
It’s a different kind of graduation ceremony. It involves newly trained service dogs delivering diplomas to their new owner heroes.
The deserving veterans were disabled in different ways.
“Twenty-nine IEDs [improvised explosive devices]. The last one got me close,” Vietnam Veteran George Parker recalled of his injury while serving in the military. After his injury in Iraq Parker now suffers from PTSD, depression, cognitive disorder, and a number of mobile disabilities.
It was a bullet in the back that caused Carl Joiner’s injury during the Vietnam War. He now has limited mobility and numbness in his hands and feet. “I’ve been living alone for the last 20 years,” he said. “I’m from Vietnam era. And honestly, I didn’t think I was gonna get a dog.
John Oldham injured his ankle in an IED explosion in Iraq and also now suffers from PTSD after losing his best friend in a helicopter accident. Of his service dog, Duchess, Oldman said, “She’s almost like an attachment of me. It’s almost like having another arm or another leg.”
But the dogs offer more than just physical assistance to the vets. “More than anything she helps me get over the fears that I had from… explosions and loud noises,” Oldham said. “So, that’s what she’s there for. To be around me in public, and re-engage as a father and a husband.”
All of the injured veterans, and their families, say they’re grateful for the much-needed help that the dogs offer. Oldham’s wife, Tyla, said, “She’s great for him. And I’m starting to see my husband again. He’s coming back to me! She’s not a dog. She’s an angel with four paws.”
According to Patriot PAWS founder Lori Stevens, the dog/veteran pairs are matches made in Heaven, even before the two come together. The dogs are rescued from shelters and trained by inmates in Gatesville. “We have 25 to 30 female inmates training, helping us everyday, 24 hours a day,” she said of the contributions made from correctional facilities. “You’re giving them [dogs] a second chance, you’re giving inmates a second chance and you benefit the veterans free of charge.”
So far, 41 inmates have worked through the Patriot PAWS program that now has two full-time trainers on staff. Of the inmates who worked with Patriot PAWS, and have since been released, only one has returned to prison.
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