Soldier's Best Friend pairs military vets with service dogs - New York News

Soldier's Best Friend pairs military vets with service dogs

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PHOENIX -

Heroes return from war each and every day, their lives forever changed by the battles they fought overseas. Now the lives of some of those men and women will never be the same, thanks to a program that pairs veterans with pets.

It's called Soldier's Best Friend.

A countless number of dogs are brought to the Arizona Humane Society daily. Not all can be cared for or adopted out, and those are the pups that are destined for great things -- like helping a soldier cope with life after war.

Oliver Miessler is seldom seen without his best friend. The 2-year-old golden retriever accompanies him everywhere, helping him cope with a severe case of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD.

"I was an infantry soldier in the U.S. Army and basically we were in a bad area so a lot of combat," says Oliver Miessler.

When Oliver returned from Iraq in 2006 he experienced depression, anxiety and had a difficult time being around people. A year and a half ago he discovered a program called Soldier's Best Friend.

Around three months ago he brought Sunny home.

"She learned very quick, she's very smart she's a very smart dog."

"We train the veteran and the dog together, and at the end of the training the veteran has a service dog at no charge," says Elaine Ransdell, vice president of Soldier's Best Friend.

Ransdell describes the program as lifesaving for both the veteran and the service dog. She explains that the animals are almost all rescues from local shelters.

"You can see a difference in after just maybe two sessions with a veteran and a dog, but we have been told that their meds are reduced, they need less medication, they get out more, the families, they are more family people," she says.

The program is intense. Training can take up to six months but Oliver, who graduates Tuesday, says every moment with Sunny has been worth it.

"She's like a real good friend that's always with me. I feel like she's always watching my back."

Before they graduate, the dogs have to successfully complete basic obedience and perform at least three tasks specific to that veteran that will help him or her.

Eight pairs will graduate Tuesday. This is the fourth group to graduate and it's important to note the organization operates entirely on donations.

Online: http://soldiersbestfriend.org/apply-for-service-dog/

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