Skip to main content

Shelter Service Dog is Life Saver for Veteran

K9s for Warriors

Axel with Jason Haag.

It came down to an ultimatum from his wife. If Jason Haag didn’t find a solution for his Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), she was going to take the kids and leave.

After 13 years in the Marines, including multiple tours in Iraq, Haag was medically discharged due to PTSD. “After each tour, my PTSD grew worse due to injuries from being shot at and blown up,” he recalled. “I became chemically dependent on pain medications, and slept with a gun under my bed. I didn’t feel safe.”

“My wife’s ultimatum really woke me up,” he said. Prior to that, he had tried all kinds of therapy. Nothing worked. But Haag knew other veterans who'd had success with service dogs.

Haag wasn’t a dog person. But, he explained, “I was desperate. I Googled 'service dogs,' and four different organizations came up. One told me that I would have to wait between two and three years. They breed and raise puppies specifically for veterans and people with disabilities. I told them that I would be dead by then.”

Luckily, the next site on his list was K9s for Warriors. His wait time would be six months. “During that time, they called me every week to check on me,” he said. “At month five, I went down to their headquarters in Florida, and spent three weeks training with Axel, the German shepherd I was matched with. I knew caring for a dog was going to change my life. When I came home with Axel and saw the smiles on my kids’ faces, it was the best feeling. My kids, ages 11, 9, and 5, didn’t smile when they were around me. Now, they and my wife saw me as a changed person. Without a doubt, Axel saved my life.”

(scroll to keep reading)

Related Stories

K9s for Warriors saves two lives—veterans and shelter dogs. When Haag met him, Axel was one week away from being put down. The dogs in the K9s for Warriors program all come from animal shelters, are evaluated by dog trainers for temperament, and are trained for several months before being matched with a veteran. Haag and the other veterans in the program had to complete 120 hours of training themselves. The application is quite extensive, and according to Haag, who now sits on K9s for Warriors' board, they have a 95 percent success rate. “The dog trainers know what to look for when they visit animal shelters,” he said. “They look for nonaggressive dogs.”

“Having Axel with me calls attention to my PTSD, which is an invisible disability,” said Haag, who tours the country on behalf of K9s for Warriors to talk about living with PTSD.

K9s for Warriors serves veterans in all parts of the country. They recently partnered with the Washington Humane Society to pair shelter dogs with veterans in the DC area, and will be hosting a gala on June 28 with the Washington Humane Society. The event will honor those who served in the military and raise funds for K9s for Warriors.

Since they partner with animal shelters, they keep costs down. “They don’t have to spend money on breeding and raising dogs,” says Haag. “We pair about four to five veterans and dogs each month. I wish we could do more; twenty-two veterans commit suicide every day. That is why we need programs like K9s for Warriors.”

K9s for Warriors has 12 paid employees; six cents from every dollar raised pays those salaries, and they don’t charge veterans for the dogs. Staff keeps in touch after the training. “They are just a phone call away,” says Haag.

For an application, click here or call 904-686-1956.

Michele C. Hollow writes about pets and wildlife for parade and other publications. She is the author of The Everything Guide to Working with Animals, and she write the animal advocacy blog Pet News and Views. You can connect with her on Twitter.

More Like This