For these vets, this is a Christmas miracle every day of the year
I hope you’re having a wonderful Christmas day with your family and friends.
Of course it’s not just a day to open presents, but to also think about miracles and blessings.
And the best blessings in life are those that don’t just happen on Christmas, but every day of the year.
And that’s what happening for vets all around the country because of one man who wanted to “pay it forward.”
When Jim Stanek returned from Iraq after three tours of duty, it was hard to adjust to life back home.
He had suffered a traumatic brain injury that caused memory and balance problems and “anxiety through the roof.”
So Jim was treated for almost a year at the Brook Army Medical Center.
But what helped him more than any drug the hospital gave him was his friend’s service dog.
A service dog is specially trained to help someone with a disability. They can open doors, be alert to anxiety or panic attacks and get help in an emergency.
So Jim and his wife Lindsey decided to train their rescue dog Sarge to do just that.
But what they ended up doing is helping other veterans all over the country.
A new leash on life
Jim and Lindsey found out quickly that training a service dog is an expensive proposition.
The typical cost is from $10,000 to $30,000 dollars. Not something most vets can afford.
And not something Jim could, either. He tried to get professional training for Sarge, but he was turned down by several veterans’ groups.
But what looked like a dream that would never come true turned into to something much bigger.
Instead of giving up, Jim and Lindsey founded Paws and Stripes. It’s a non-profit that allows vets with post-traumatic stress syndrome and traumatic brain injuries to be matched with a service dog.
And all at no charge.
Now these service dogs are more than a just a “therapist,” best friend, and companion. Because of their specialized training, they also receive the protection and rights of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
That means Jim and his dog Sarge can go anywhere together, stores, restaurants, all the places that would usually keep a dog out.
And what these special canines can do is beyond amazing.
Sarge, for example, is specially trained to know when Jim is going to have a panic attack. She also helps him deal with what he calls “dead space,” a fear left over from his combat days. She looks around corners, and will wag her tail telling him it’s safe — “all’s clear.”
And like the other dogs Paws trains to aid vets, Sarge helps Jim with his specific needs, one being his balance. She’s trained to walk by his side to give him support, and also helps him stand up.
Another dog trained by Paws is Cooper. He’s learning to help his new owner Jack go upstairs, pick up his keys if he drops them and wake him from nightmares.
And it’s not only the vets who get a second chance, but the dogs, too.
All the Paws and Stripes dogs come from animal shelters in New Mexico where the organization is located.
So far Paws and Stripes has been matchmaker for close to 50 vets and dogs — doing what Jim and Lindsey call “saving lives, together, two at a time.”
To learn more about Paws and Stripes and make a donation, click here.
“Therapy dogs help veterans soldier on” Liz Neporent, November 11, 2014, ABC News, abcnews.go.com