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One Woman Provides Service Dogs For Veterans: “They Help Save Lives!”

After realizing what an impact pups can make on our lives, Shannon Walker decided to train them become a source of comfort for vets

Professional dog trainer Shannon Walker had trained thousands of service dogs over two decades when an Army veteran named Kevin walked into her training facility, Man’s Best Friend, in Battle Ground, Washington.

Kevin told Shannon that he suffered from PTSD. He’d survived an intense firefight on his last deployment, then, once home, six of the men and women who’d fought alongside him died by suicide. Kevin felt so anxious in public that he couldn’t go many places other than the local VA to be with other vets. That’s where someone suggested he get a service dog.

“I thought maybe my Lab, Sammy, could be trained to help me,” he said.

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Shannon had never trained a service dog for a veteran with PTSD, but her heart went out to Kevin. Her father had served in the Air Force during the Korean War, and it pained her to meet a veteran struggling.

Even though he’s no longer wearing a military uniform, he’s still paying a price every day for my freedom, she thought, and agreed to train Sammy to be his service dog.

Shannon has always known the power that pups have to comfort us
Shannon has always known the power that pups have to comfort us

Amazing transformation

Over the next few months, Shannon trained Sammy to “task” for symptoms of PTSD, like interrupting panic attacks and blocking out space for her handler in crowded areas. Then Shannon spent several weeks teaching Kevin how to partner with Sammy as his service dog in public.

She watched, amazed, as Kevin found the courage to go places that he’d been too anxious to go to before, like the mall.

After their last training session, Kevin shook Shannon’s hand and walked away with his head up and shoulders back, proud. Shannon thought about all of her dog training accomplishments and thought to herself, This feels different.

Shannon wasn’t the only person who noticed Kevin’s dramatic change. Other veterans at the VA saw his transformation and began asking her to train service dogs for them too. But unlike Kevin, they didn’t already have pet dogs.

Determined to help them all, Shannon vowed to find a way.

The puppies Shannon trains go on to bring comfort to many
The puppies Shannon trains grow up to bring comfort to many

Service dogs for veterans are a gift of freedom

As Shannon shared her desire in the dog community to train dogs specifically for veterans, a local animal shelter donated five dogs. Her staff jumped in to help, and a veterinarian at Orchards Veterinary Clinic offered free medical care. With support in place, in 2012, Shannon founded the nonprofit Northwest Battle Buddies (NorthwestBattle

The dogs give veterans strength and courage to live again
The dogs give veterans strength and courage to live again

After volunteer foster families raise puppies to be confident and obedient, Shannon and her team spend five months training dogs to learn skills, like interrupting nightmares and night terrors, helping veterans refocus at the onset of a panic attack and acting as a barrier in public.

Then they spend five weeks teaching each veteran how to partner with their new service dog. The nonprofit provides ongoing training for whatever the teams need and checks on dogs each year to make sure they’re up to date on veterinary care.

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NWBB dog
The Northwest Battle Buddies are trained to have skills that help veterans

Though it costs about $25,000 to raise and place a service dog, Northwest Battle Buddies gives them free of charge to veterans. When donations don’t cover costs, Shannon’s for-profit dog training business covers the rest.

Shannon stays motivated by powerful testimonials from veterans and their families. One boy’s father took him to his first ballgame after receiving a service dog. Another danced with his daughter. Others credit their dogs with saving their lives.

My broken brain had finally convinced me to end my pain. As I pulled myself off the floor and onto a chair, ready to take my life, Talon pawed my leg…at that moment, I was snapped back to reality, texted one veteran about his Labrador retriever.

Shannon is proud that Northwest Battle Buddies has gifted 224 service dogs to ­veterans—and to have her twin sons, Jacob and Jarod, both of whom served in the military, working for the nonprofit.

The special pups help save lives
The service dogs for veterans help save lives

“We, the people…it’s our responsibility to find a way to give back to our veterans,” Shannon says. “Where would we be without our freedom and the men and women who provided it? Everything in life starts with freedom. It’s a gift.”

For more comforting stories of the power of dogs, keep reading…

The Hero Pups Program Is Giving Our Country’s Heroes a New ‘Leash’ On Life — Here’s How

Circle of Love: This Hero Dog Alerted His Family to a Fire and Saved Lives — And Then Students’ Donation Saved His Life

Mom and Daughter Saved By A Four-Legged Friend: “God Sent An Angel!”

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