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Disability Empowerment

How Service Dogs Can Help Veterans Reach the Peak of Independence

Photos: Courtesy of Zachary Gittlen

Mariah Vaiz

Marketing Coordinator and Content Creator, Guide Dogs of America

A discharge date should be the signal of promise and opportunity in a hero’s life. However, for some, this date could be the beginning of an invisible war known as PTSD. At Tender Loving Canines, our service dogs for veterans are custom-trained to help wounded warriors gain independence and reintegrate into their families and society.

Luis P., a new graduate from our veterans’ program, recently achieved a significant milestone. 

“For some reason, hiking has been something I stopped doing due to the ever-growing lack of solitude and the large groups of people,” he said. “The last few times I attempted to go for a hike, I saw so many cars and people in the parking area I couldn’t bring myself to pull into the lot.”

A friend in need

Even though it made him uncomfortable, Luis knew he and Shield, his service dog, could conquer a hike with some perseverance and teamwork. The COVID-19 pandemic has left his neighborhood streets lonely and quiet — a silver lining of opportunity to work on being outside with no one around. Eventually, their early morning walks progressed into mid-day walks with more and more people around. 

All the patience, practice, and trust Luis put into Shield prepared them for the milestone ahead. 

“With plenty of snacks, treats, and water, we made our way to the top of Iron Mountain and spent a few hours at the peak,” Luis said. “As a team, we continue to break barriers I couldn’t have done alone. We are always growing together.”

Tender Loving Canines’ service dogs for veterans are provided at no cost to the recipient. These dogs are trained to respond to PTSD-related triggers. They can carry or retrieve objects and provide balance assistance for veterans with mobility limitations. These dogs can also remind our veterans with traumatic brain injuries to take their medications. 

The benefits these service dogs offer extend far beyond the tasks they perform. They become trusted companions and help their partners gain greater confidence and independence.

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