COLORADO SPRINGS — These pups aren’t your average dogs.
They’re Victory Service Dogs, trained to help veterans.
“A service dog for our veterans gets them out of the house. That’s one of the big things that our veterans struggle with. They tend to isolate, and a lot of our clients have PTSD, traumatic brain injury, a lot of wartime disabilities,” said Steve Corey, founder and executive director of Victory Service Dogs.
The veteran-owned and operated nonprofit offers service dog training to veterans at no cost.
In nearly five years, Victory Service Dogs has helped more than 200 veterans in southern Colorado.
“We’ll help them match them up. If they do come into our program with their own dog, we’ll do an assessment on the dog and make sure that they are capable of performing the tasks that are needed,” Corey said.
“My studies have been a little bit easier at school because I’ve been able to larger classes, and I don’t really worry as much. I just focus on the teacher and let her kind of focus on everything else going on around me,” said Austin Blewer, a U.S. Army veteran, who just graduated from the program with his service dog, Snowballs.
The nonprofit says service dogs can be life-saving to veterans.
“I’ve noticed a big difference in my clients over the time that I’ve worked with them. Their confidence has gone up along with the confidence of their dogs. And I’ve noticed that they’ve actually genuinely enjoyed coming to classes because the changes that they’ve seen in their own dog has reflected on themselves too,” said Brandi Garcia, a dog trainer for Victory Service Dogs
Each client’s dog training is customized to their needs.
“The most important need that I’ve trained dogs for is depressured therapy to get the heart rate down and the breathing down, blocking and covering to create crowd control, which is where the dog stands behind the handler or between their legs facing backward, to give that handler a little more relief, that somebody is watching their six. And another one is behavior interruption. A lot of my clients, when they exhibit anxiety, they start to fidget a lot. So, the dog will actually interrupt that behavior and try to redirect them to something like petting them or you know, getting out of the area,” Garcia said.
The training program can take anywhere from 18 to 28 months.
“I’m a victim of military sexual trauma, so he’s going to be helping me deal with those kinds of issues, being able to come out in crowds and be around people. I spent a lot of time in my home, not being able to be away from my spouse,” said Brandi Anna-Liza Fisher, who has been training with her dog, Achilles.
“I still struggle getting out without her or without like, my wife around me or one of my close friends. So, that’s one of the things, I can go out without my wife or close friend. And I can go into larger crowds, so I can do my Christmas shopping right now, without my wife, which then I can do it for her,” Blewer said.
Victory Service Dogs say their success rate is 95-percent.
“The VA does not have that many resources for veterans and it’s very, very hit and miss. A lot of us who do have PTSD or Military Sexual Trauma, there’s not that many things or avenues for us. So, Victory Service Dogs is very important to have running. And so, we need people to advocate and give funding for services like this, for people like me,” Fisher said.
“They’ve helped improve my life greatly,” Blewer said.