United States Marine Corps

Donated Service Dogs Provide Cover for PTSD Veterans

"I've hit bottom and my wife and my family have seen the impact of this simple gift of an animal in my life," said Marine Corps veteran Jim Hardin.

Post traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is taking a significant toll on veterans. Twenty-two service members take their own lives every day.

The Patriotic Service Dog Foundation wants to bring that number down to zero with a little help from man's best friend.

Founder Tom Tackett, a veteran himself, has been training dogs for 40 years, but only recently added service dogs for veterans.

His foundation's motto is 22 to zero.

"Twenty-two to zero represents that 22 veterans a day commit suicide and our goal is to make that zero and to this point not one of the veterans who's received a dog from us has committed suicide," Tackett said.

His organization provides free, highly trained service dogs to veterans like Jim Hardin.

The US Marine Corps gunnery sergeant served for 17 years. He said his experiences took an emotional and mental toll.

"If you look at me physically I can run, go to the gym," he said. "I can do everything else everybody else can, but what is broken inside of me is inside my head."

Hardin said he reached out for help with post traumatic stress disorder when he hit his lowest point.

"It was to the point I wouldn't get out of bed so I would struggle to even want to join the day," he said.

But that changed when he was paired with Howie, a four-legged friend from the Patriotic Service Dog Foundation.

"I've had him a month and he's helped me turn around in such a positive way," Hardin said. "I've hit bottom and my wife and my family have seen the impact of this simple gift of an animal in my life."

He said Howie makes him get out of bed and out of the house every morning for a walk. Along the way, the pair makes new friends.

"He's so stinkin' handsome that everybody wants to stop and talk to me. He's a people magnet," Hardin said.

These interactions with strangers are helping Hardin get back in the swing of everyday life.

Tackett said, "Next thing you know they're engaging, talking, they're getting back in the world and that helps tremendously."

The dogs are trained to reduce a veteran's anxiety by sitting in between them and strangers. The pups literally watch their owner's back by facing in the opposite direction when asked to sit in public.

And they're also trained to wake their owners from nightmares.

"If they're having a nightmare or flashback, the dog will interrupt them," Tackett said.

Both Tackett and Hardin said it's difficult to explain why the dogs are able to connect with veterans in ways people aren't always able to.

For Hardin, it's a life-changing bond.

He said, "Howie's my battle buddy forever."

Hardin said he's fighting the battle against PTSD one day at a time— with Howie and his wife by his side.

Training one service dog costs between $20,000 and $30,000. If you'd like to help, visit the Patriotic Service Dog Foundation's website.

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