CHICAGO (CBS) — Inside a warehouse along Roosevelt Road in Cicero, seven eager shelter dogs are learning how to help their new owners, veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
“The impact that these service dogs have on these vets is nothing short of magical,” said Dennis Mele, Executive Director, K9’s for Veterans. “You have to see it to believe it.”
The training center has only been open for about eight months, but already the dogs have been paired with needy veterans. WBBM’s Lisa Fielding reports.
“They have to be diagnosed with PTSD, they have to go through the application process, there’s a review board that reviews their applications and then we match the dog with the veteran,” Mele said.
Fernando Salcedo, Jr. did two tours in Iraq. He was injured in 2010 by a suicide bomb. Salcedo was approved and placed with a service dog.
“He’s changed my life,” Salcedo, Jr. said. “I was depressed, had a lot of anxiety, didn’t want to leave the house, had no motivation. I was drinking a lot. Crazy thoughts go through your head.”
Salcedo was matched with a black German Shepard, named Tango.
“He’s a big teddy bear, he’s very loyal, goes with me where ever I go, always has eyes on me,” Salcedo, Jr. said. “He calms me and soothes me. My two daughters love him. He’s my other kid.”
Tango and seven other dogs train at the K9’s for Veterans Center in Cicero.
Once eligible veterans are accepted and matched with dogs, K9’s for Veterans provides training, food and basic medical care for the life of the dog.
“They get matched up with the vet. There’s a screening process for the dog, there’s a screening process for the vet,” said Mike Tellerino, CEO, K9’s for Veterans. “They meet, they get friendly with each other and there’s a training period so the dog gets training up front and then the dog gets more training after he meets the vet that is sometimes tailored to the vet’s individual’s need.”
Brett Mango, an army veteran, was injured in an ambush in Afghanistan.
“He pulls me up the stairs, he can pull me out of a chair, makes sure I don’t fall,” Mango said.
His puppy, Taz was trained to be his service dog after he left the military in 2012.
“I had him before I deployed. The trainer said we’ll put Taz through the test and he passed,” he said. “He relieves my anxiety, knows how to recognize and comfort me when I have nightmares and eases stress in public places. He’s changed my life. I get better and better every day.”
“In many cases, when that vet meets his dog for the first time, it’s like a switch has been flipped. There’s this automatic connection,” said Mele. “You can see an automatic difference. Having a service dog isn’t the cure all for PTSD, but it certainly does an awful lot to get these guys get through the day, through the week, through the month.”
K9’s for Veterans is relatively new. It is a 501C3 non-profit and relies on volunteers and donations.
They are now the largest training center of its kind in the Midwest.
“These dogs are remarkable for what they do for our veterans,” Tellerino said. “There aren’t enough of them to go around. We hope to help with that.”
The organization is also helping to build at memorial for veterans who’ve died due to PTSD. It will be built in Channahon State Park and hope to dedicate it next Spring.
For more information or to donate, log onto http://k9forveteranwarriors.org/index.html