BATTLE GROUND, Wash. (KOIN) — A local group is changing the lives of soldiers, one canine companion at a time.
Northwest Battle Buddies is a Battle Ground-based non-profit organization that trains specially-selected dogs to help combat veterans who suffer from PTSD.
The dogs are gifted to service members who have been honorably discharged and have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Just this week, President Donald Trump signed a measure to create a federal task force that will work to prevent veteran suicides. He said 20 veterans and service members take their lives every day in the United States.
Northwest Battle Buddies is doing its part to help lower those numbers.
The group’s founder, Shannon Walker, started the program in 2011 after a service member came to her looking for a dog to help him navigate life.
“When I saw him change through the training of his dog and I learned about the suicide rate in my simple-minded thinking I thought, if I can just adopt dogs out of shelters I can train and gift them to American heroes,” Walker said.
Connecting a veteran with a service dog is how the group shows its appreciation for soldiers who protect American freedom.
Walker said a service dog is trained to help a person “navigate life with excellence” prior to meeting a soldier and then the pair go through a 6-week training period together.
“We go to the malls, movie theaters, we go through TSA, churches; everywhere that life would take them we train for with them,” said Walker.
Training a single dog costs about $25,000, so the organization relies heavily upon donations to continue the program.
“We’ve found there’s a large population that love their country, love the men and women who fought for their freedom,” said Ovie Muntean with Northwest Battle Buddies.
One way the group raises awareness about its mission and simultaneously honors veterans is through an annual gala. This year’s upcoming event will feature service members, a “puppy brigade,” a silent auction and more.
The gala is also a way for people to see just how much service dogs can change the lives of soldiers in so many ways.
“What we find is, from day one where healing begins, our veterans will find the courage within themselves to lead that dog where they want to go because the symptoms of PTSD keep them isolated,” said Walker.
The organization’s work has earned national attention. A study scheduled to begin later this year by Johns Hopkins University will take a closer look at the dogs and PTSD.
Northwest Battle Buddies’ 8th Annual Freedom and Gala event will be held March 16 at the Oregon Convention Center.
a psychological reaction occurring after experiencing a highly stressing event (such as wartime combat, physical violence, or a natural disaster) that is usually characterized by depression, anxiety, flashbacks, recurrent nightmares, and avoidance of reminders of the event —abbreviation PTSD