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A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

Service Dogs Who Saved the Life of Veterans

Suicide is an epidemic among veterans. Service dogs specially trained to work with veterans can help—and do.

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A happy dog being walked by his owner at a local park at sunset while wearing a blue bandana.Salejandro/Shutterstock

Service dogs helping service men and women

Of the 123 Americans who die every day from suicide, around 17 are veterans. But a canine companion can mean the difference between life and death. That’s why organizations like K9s for Warriors and Pets for Patriots are helping provide service dogs specifically for service men and women. These dogs can inspire a sense of purpose and provide humans with a reason to live, which can save veteran lives. But that’s not the only way service dogs have saved the lives of veterans. These dogs rank right alongside these bravest dogs throughout history.

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Happy purebred labrador retriever dog outdoors lies on grass park sunset summer day.Parilov/Shutterstock

A canine fire alarm

Bella had always provided comfort to Vietnam veteran Tony Damato who was suffering from numerous post-war health issues. But she also literally saved his life. One day in 2017 while Damato was taking a nap, Bella jumped on him and wouldn’t get off until Damato got up. It turned out Damato’s house was on fire. Both Bella and Damato made it out alive thanks to Bella’s instinct to protect and rescue her person. Find out 15 secrets dog trainers won’t tell you for free.

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Bernese mountain dogJana Mackova/Shutterstock

Another canine fire rescue

A few weeks ago, Vietnam vet Brian Rand got in bed and set his alarm to wake him for his doctor’s appointment at Veterans Affairs the next morning. When he woke up to his service dog, Curly, nudging him awake, Rand assumed he’d slept through his alarm. Then he realized it wasn’t even morning yet. Jumping out of bed, Rand realized quickly his living room was on fire. “I was really lucky,” Rand told Inside Edition. “Within a minute or two, that fire completely engulfed the ceiling in the attic. We’re very grateful.” This is what happens to service dogs after they’ve retired.

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A border collie holding a ball in the mouth during the sunsetSebastiano Cinetto/Shutterstock

Saved by distraction

Back in 2012, 17-year Army and Marine Corps veteran Ron Flaville had been struggling unsuccessfully with PTSD, and things were only getting worse. His wife suggested they have their dog, Sophia, trained as a service dog. Flaville and Sophia had only just begun a training program when Flaville’s condition worsened. “I had been in the program for only a little while before I had what could have been my own life-ending moment,” he wrote on NonPolitical News. “But instead, Sophia followed what she had been taught and came up to me with a tennis ball in her mouth and practically demanded my attention. She seemed insistent… It made me realize that what I was considering was a permanent ‘solution’ to a temporary problem.” Find out what people who are suicidal really need to hear.

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Dog portrait back lit background. Beagle with tongue out in grass during sunset in fields countryside.Przemek Iciak/Shutterstock

Barking for survival

When Jim Champion, a 101st Airborne Solider, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, it put an end to his dreams of deployment. He enlisted service dog, Bowie, to help him cope with both the illness and disappointment. Then in September Bowie began barking incessantly, which was unusual for the well-trained dog. Champion quickly realized Bowie was trying to tell him something: there was a fire in the house. Champion and Bowie got out safely thanks to Bowie’s use of his “words.” A phenomenal sense of smell is one of the 11 superpowers that dogs have and humans don’t.

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Dog Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever walking, playing, running, jumping in the park in springdezy/Shutterstock

A sense of purpose

When U.S. Marines Officer Andrew Einstein suffered a serious brain injury from a grenade, he was sent home to recover. But the effects of his injury left him feeling like he had no sense of purpose. It got so bad that Einstein was planning his suicide, but before he could take action, a friend suggested a service dog might help, and Einstein brought home service dog, Gunner. “He forced me to get better, ” Einstein told ABC 6 in Philadelphia this past February. “Years later, I’m thriving.” Insights to your health and mood are one of the 13 revealing secrets your dog knows about you.

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Dog watching in a side with lens flare.Alex Hertz/Shutterstock

A blessing

Army veteran Joshua Turner felt lost and lonely before he was introduced to his golden retriever service dog. “I needed a push to make a positive change in my life,” Turner told Wink News of Southwest Florida. “Having a four-legged friend gives me that positive change.” In honor of the role his service dog had played in saving his life, Turner named her “Angel.” In his words, she was a “blessing.” This is why you’re not supposed to pet service dogs while they’re on duty.

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Funny siberian husky dog with pointy ears & long tongue sticking out on a walk. Leashed domestic purebred pet resting on green mawed grass lawn of city central park. Background, copy space, close up.evrymmnt/Shutterstock

Service dog ends the nightmares

Air Force Technical Sgt. Brandon Jones credits his service dog, Apache, with saving his life after being diagnosed with PTSD so severe, Jones had become socially isolated. “If I’m having nightmares, he will literally come and lick me until I wake up,” Jones told the U.S. Department of Defense. “When he senses an anxiety attack, he will put himself on me and he will force me to pet him.” The experience has been life-changing for Jones, who thanks to Apache, feels capable of interacting with people once again.

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Tri-color Border Collie PortraitIan Thraves Photography/Shutterstock

In the nick of time

After a deployment to Afghanistan, a 30-year-old army vet, Ryan, began to suffer panic attacks and disturbing flashbacks. Ryan came to rely heavily on his service dog, Yogi, who would gently nudge him to leave any location that was causing him stress, shares Honest to Paws. But there eventually came a time when Yogi understood more drastic action was warranted: one day Ryan picked up a knife and was poised to harm himself, so Yogi jumped on Ryan and bit his arm until he dropped the knife. This isn’t the only time a dog has saved its owner’s life—here are more canine heroes.

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Big dog standing in grass looking at camera on meadow in sunset lights.Alex Zotov/Shutterstock

A reason to live

In between his three deployments, Justin, a sergeant in the Army, had suffered from PTSD. But after his last deployment, he rescued a dog from a shelter that was partnered with Pets for Patriots. “Duke” became Justin’s service dog. At Justin’s most disheartened, he considered taking his own life, but knowing Duke was there stopped him from going through with it in a way that his even his beloved wife and children somehow hadn’t. “Duke has saved my life. There’s no doubt about that,” says Justin. “You could offer me anything in the world, and I wouldn’t take it for that dog.” Read on to learn about 10 shelter dogs who save their owners’ lives.

Lauren Cahn
Lauren Cahn is a New York-based writer whose work has appeared regularly on Reader's Digest, The Huffington Post, and a variety of other publications since 2008. She covers life and style, popular culture, law, religion, health, fitness, yoga, entertaining and entertainment. Lauren is also an author of crime fiction; her first full-length manuscript, The Trust Game, was short-listed for the 2017 CLUE Award for emerging talent in the genre of suspense fiction.