Shelter dogs and veterans face life together

By Joanna D. Samson, FOTAS Vice President

Luci is a golden boxer/pit mix with a white chest and soft brown eyes. Olivia is a rangy, muscular brindle pit mix with a white chest, white socks and golden eyes. Buddy is a shepherd/lab mix with a white chest, a black nose and a great big dog smile.

What do these dogs have in common? They were all unwanted, abandoned dogs that wound up in the Aiken County Animal Shelter through no fault of their own. Luci was surrendered by a bereft young man who was being deployed overseas. She was bewildered and very, very pregnant. Olivia was found roaming the streets and starving, her dull coat stretched dangerously over her rib cage. She was anxious and hyper. Buddy was abandoned by his owner in a remote part of the County. He was confused, and who can blame him? One day he had a home and the next day he finds himself in a crowded public shelter with a 40% chance of being euthanized.

In each case, FOTAS volunteers recognized that there was something special about these dogs, and they reached out for Jerry Lyda, the founder of Veterans K9 Solutions in Augusta. Now these unwanted dogs have something else in common – they share a noble purpose. They are companions and service dogs for veterans suffering from the stress and horrors of war.

“Each year,” says Lyda, “300,000-400,000 veterans are diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. The military estimates that 22 veterans a day commit suicide – 22!”

We know that a dog can greatly improve the quality of life for these veterans – we see it happen all the time. Our love for dogs and gratitude towards those who served makes our goal at K9 Solutions simple – give back to those in need by saving two lives at once: a traumatized veteran and a homeless dog.”

Jerry selects dogs for the program by assessing their temperament and their trainability. The dogs must be intelligent, confident and people-oriented. Once selected, the dog and their veteran handler participate in a rigorous training program with escalating stages of accomplishment. The process itself instills confidence and an abiding sense of achievement in both dog and veteran.

It is an elegant solution to a heartbreaking problem: paired together, the traumatized patriots and forgotten dogs help each other find a safe place in an uncertain world and are restored to a full life through love and commitment.

But here’s the thing: Luci, Olivia and Buddy aren’t the only shelter residents special enough to serve as service dogs – at any one time, the shelter is full of lovable animals capable of bringing life and love to any home. They just need the chance. They need you.

Plus, starting in November, in honor of the men and women who have served our country, FOTAS will pay half the adoption fee for any veteran who adopts a dog or cat. $35 for a dog and $17.50 for a cat – a very small price to pay for a fully inoculated, spayed and neutered companion.

Their lives are in our hands.