Service Dogs Help in Healing Veterans’ Hearts and Minds:
Charlie, a black German Shepherd, wasn’t at Pet Rescue’s facility in Harrison for very long before volunteers realized that he was a special and extremely clever dog.
By Caroline Walker
Charlie, a black German Shepherd, wasn’t at Pet Rescue’s facility in Harrison for very long before volunteers realized that he was a special and extremely clever dog. Up from a rural high-kill shelter in Virginia, where he was saved from being euthanized, Charlie showed such promise that the folks at Pet Rescue reached out to Paws of War, an organization that trains rescue dogs to become service dogs for veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Though Paws of War is flooded with calls about potential service dogs and they can only take a few into their program at any given time, Charlie was immediately accepted and is now in Long Island undergoing intensive training. He will be matched with a vet when the right fit is found. Paws of War works very hard to pair the right dog with each vet believing that a great match will help restore independence, confidence, and peace of mind to the veteran.
Along with a crew from Westchester News 12, we recently caught up with the inspiring team that runs Paws of War, war veteran Stephen Siwulec and his service dog Cali, and, of course, Charlie.
We were all very moved listening to Stephen talk about Cali. Having suffered a brain injury when he was thrown from his Humvee in Afghanistan, Stephen was withdrawn when he came home. He suffered from PTSD and memory loss and had a hard time transitioning back to civilian life after serving in the Army for five years. He also had reoccurring nightmares and night terrors, which made it difficult to ever feel well rested, adding to his anxiety. Stephen persevered and put himself through college, graduating with honors. But he felt alone and isolated, until he met Cali. Stephen told us when he looked into Cali’s eyes for the first time he began to cry because he knew he had found his “battle buddy”.
The bond between Stephen and Cali is profound. Cali is always by his side. A Labrador/Jack Russell mix, she is serene, loving, and devoted. Cali knows Stephen’s moods, and how to help calm him when he is feeling stress or pain. She helps him at night too, tenderly waking him with licks on his cheek when he has a nightmare. Stephen told us that he feels in Cali the spirit of a friend who died overseas, at war, who now is watching over him.
Service dogs also give suffering vets a purpose, a reason to get up in the morning. The tragic reality is that soldiers coming back from Afghanistan and Iraq are committing suicide at the highest rates ever – every day 22 vets take their own lives. Paws of War is doing all it can to help “both ends of the leash,” by pairing rescue dogs with vets. Cali was two days away from being put down in a southern shelter; now, she is helping Stephen rebuild his life, one day at a time. And our local rescue pup Charlie is well on his way to doing his patriotic part to help mend a vet’s heart and soul. It’s nothing short of beautiful.
To find out more anout Pet Rescue or Paws of War, visit ny-petrescue.org or guardiansofrescue.org.