Blooming flowers and warming weather weren’t the only signs of change during early spring this year. For Charles, a U.S. Army veteran, the new season also brought forth a fundamental change in the way he’s able to live his life. On March 23rd, Charles became the latest veteran to graduate from American Humane’s Pups4Patriots program, which provides free, specially trained service dogs for veterans diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress or Traumatic Bain Injury.
Charles was deployed to Iraq and served in the Army from 2005-2009. Since ending his service, the Florida native struggled to adapt back into civilian life with his family, whether it was successfully falling asleep at night or joining his wife in attending a crowded event. When he saw a YouTube video of the Pups4Patriots program while conducting general research into acquiring a service dog, he leapt into action and decided that he was the latest patriot in need of a pup.
“My wife likes to go more places than I’m comfortable going, so being able to do more stuff with her will be a great thing,” Charles said. “Most of the time I tell her to find a friend and just go, because I’m not much for going to places where there are crowds and lots of people.”
Once accepted into the program, Charles was paired with a male Labrador Retriever named Shiloh, and the two worked with an American Humane trainer to complete a “boot camp” that was a little furrier than the one he attended in the Army.
“Throughout the week there’s even more of a connection and you’re falling in love with the dog and the dog is falling in love with me,” Charles told American Humane. “The training was getting the dog to connect with me, and, at the same time, it was me connecting with Shiloh and building that trust between each other.”
The bond was instant for the duo, who trekked back to Florida with a renewed purpose and strengthened friendship.
“We love each other,” Charles said. “When he gets off work, he definitely wants to play. He knows he’s off work. He’s like, ‘All right, it’s fun time.’ When he’s working, it’s like he is in the military. He’s like, ‘All right, this is my job. This is what I do.’ He’s very focused.”
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 skyrocket upwards of $30,000.
And even when cost isn’t an obstacle, wait times can still be prohibitively long. Through the Pups4Patriot program, American Humane provides service dogs to veterans at no charge to them in both a timely and efficient manner.
The Pups4Patriots program, and its training of teams like Charles and Shiloh, 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.
“No matter what your limitations are, no matter what your physical or mental issues may be, a service dog will be the best thing for you,” Charles said. “It will help break you out of that shell that you’ve put yourself in over time.”