Karen sometimes struggles to feel safe.
The U.S. Air Force veteran, who served from 1976-1981, found herself staying inside as much as possible due to her trepidation of big crowds and noisy environments. While searching for ways to mitigate the stress she felt going out in the world, the North Carolina native was led to American Humane.
“I was looking at a lot of different programs,” Karen said. “I applied for Pups4Patriots, and it sounded like a good program and something that I would be interested in.”
That simple click of a button turned into a lifelong partnership and an awe-inspiring transformation in the way she was able to live.
This June, Karen became the latest veteran to graduate from the Pups4Patriots program, which provides free, specially trained service dogs for veterans diagnosed with post-traumatic stress or traumatic brain injury.
“I mostly stay home because I just don’t like to go out in crowds,” Karen told American Humane. “I think the dog will help me feel more secure to have somebody right there with me that will help me during the days. They’re a companion. I can go out and not stay in the house, because I do that a lot.”
Karen found the frequent correspondence and straightforward application extremely helpful as she navigated the process of entering the program. Once accepted, she set out for a 10-day “boot camp” with a professional American Humane trainer and her new service dog, Beau.
“I’ve had dogs before but never ones that have been trained this much,” she said. “I really think that the program has been great. I’ve never been around a dog trainer, so that was very good and helpful, with them telling you what you’re supposed to do in certain situations.”
Now that she has officially completed the program, Karen is able to venture out and experience life to its fullest, like taking a nice morning walk in the park or making a quick trip to the grocery store for a favorite snack.
“I’m looking forward to going to parks, stores, things like that,” she said. “They’re crowded, but me and the dog will be okay. You’re kind of iffy at first, at least the first couple of times you do it, but the dog stays right there beside you and you’re rewarding him for good behavior. It makes you feel better.”
Service dogs are an invaluable asset to veterans who have sustained trauma, but there are significant obstacles to receiving one. Properly training a dog so they perform their needed tasks and remain calm and focused in public areas can be both expensive and time-consuming, with costs which can climb upwards of $30,000.
Even when cost isn’t an obstacle, wait times can still be far too long. Through the Pups4Patriot program, American Humane provides service dogs to veterans at no charge to them in a timely manner. The Pups4Patriots program, and its training of teams like Karen and Beau, is made possible through the generous support of donors.
To learn more, and help fund more stories like these, visit www.americanhumane.org/program/military.
“It’s a good program. If you’re not used to dogs, your dog is going to be great for you. They’re going to give you confidence to go out in the world, go to parks, go to restaurants. You don’t have to go to the grocery store in the middle of the night. It will help them. There’s a lot of people out, but you’ll have your dog with you. You feel safe because you have a dog.”