Military Therapy Dogs Help Heal Hurting Heroes

A slobbery kiss and a wagging tail just makes everything seem better. But while you may have just had a tough day at the office, canine companions can even help veterans suffering with severe mental health issues bounce back from the brink.

They say a dog is man’s best friend and no one knew that old saying is true more than Shari Duval and her son, Bret.

After serving two tours in Iraq and previously as a K9 police bomb dog handler, Bret began to suffer the crippling effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Despite seeking medical help, nothing the doctors could do was helping Bret’s condition. That’s when his loving mom Shari knew she had to do something to help her son get better.

The devoted mom said:

“After my son did two tours in Iraq, he was just not the same person at all. They teach you how to go to war, but they don’t teach you how to come home.

“My son was broken. I just did what any other mother would do. I helped to fix my son”. (CNN).

Determined to find a way to improve Bret’s PTSD, Shari set up K9s For Warriors in 2011, and since then the organization has grown to be the largest service dog program for veterans in the USA.


After his mom sadly passed away from cancer last year, Bret now manages the charity himself. They have around 700 dogs available, mostly from kill shelters.

Sometimes the loving innocence of a dog can break down barriers which before had seemed indestructible. Even the toughest war heroes are moved by the unconditional love dogs give.

Often veterans feel ashamed or a stigma around asking for mental help, and this too often has tragic consequences.

According to the Department of Veteran Affairs, in 2019 alone 6,261 ex-soldiers took their own lives. On average, 17 veterans die by suicide every day in the United States.

Heartbreakingly, more veterans die by suicide than in combat.

Traditional methods of reaching out to struggling veterans are not working, but the veterans themselves insist therapy dogs DO work for them.


Screenshot 2022 01 24 at 17.58.45
Veterans and their dogs at one of Bret’s K9s For Warriors therapy sessions


Lisa Clark-Gutierrez, 33, is a PTSD sufferer who says traditional medicines and treatments never worked for her, and it wasn’t until she received her golden Labrador Retriever Lisa from K9 For Warriors that she began to feel confident enough to leave her home. Speaking to NPR:

“Every time they gave me a new med, they had to give me three more. I just couldn’t do it anymore,

“Now with Lisa we take bike rides, we go down to the park; we go to Home Depot,

“I go grocery shopping – normal-people things that I get to do that I didn’t get to do before Lisa.” 

Fortunately, the amazing difference therapy dogs make to veteran’s lives is now being recognised and acted upon. The Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers (PAWS) for Veterans Therapy Act came into place last summer, which will include a five year pilot program supported by Department of Veterans Affairs.

This is pawsome news and will no doubt make a huge difference to lives of so many brave warriors.

You can donate to K9s For Warriors here.

Notice: This article may contain commentary that reflects the author's opinion.

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