Group connects veterans with canine companions

Group connects veterans with canine companions

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PEACHTREE CITY, Ga. -

Some wounded veterans spent the Labor Day weekend working with new canine companions as part of the training program provided by a Georgia nonprofit group.

Healing 4 Heroes connects veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries with service dogs and training.

The psychiatric service dogs help war veterans return to some kind of normalcy.

Army Desert Storm veteran Piper Hill said the lack of care for returning vets prompted her to start Healing 4 Heroes in 2010.

"If I can give them something as simple as an animal, a dog to help them with their depression or their cognitive issues -- something so simple can save somebody from pulling a trigger or taking a bunch of pills," Piper said.

Training took place this past weekend at various Peachtree City locations, including the Wyndham Hotel, where the vets and their dogs demonstrated some lifesaving tasks. Canine Jenny told Frank Wiginton when to take medication, while Angel woke Keith Parker from a nightmare.

"She brings me a little bit closer to being normal," Parker said. "When I'm normal and I feel like I'm normal, my kids don't suffer."

For Afghanistan War veteran Kayla Little, the training exercise with the canine Misfit helps her cope. The boxer shields her from unexpected contact with people.

"Now it's not a surprise every time somebody walks past me in Wal-Mart," Little said. "She moves, I look at her, I see them, I can go back to what I was doing comfortably."

The veterans said that divorce, depression and suicidal thoughts are all part of picking up the pieces. They say Healing 4 Heroes connecting them to training with new canine companions is the missing link.

"You have somebody there, that when nobody understands, they understand," Little said.

Hill said that it costs about $5,000 per dog for the training. She said that businesses like the Wyndham Hotel helped the group offset the cost this weekend.  She says when fully trained, the service dogs will meet guidelines of the Americans With Disabilities Act.  

For more information, visit www.healing4heroes.org

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