Veterans who apply for a service dog from the nonprofit organization Patriot PAWS have to wait for years to meet their new best friend. When they get the phone call saying the wait is over, it's life changing.
That was the case for one Iraq War veteran with multiple debilitating physical and mental injuries.
“I came back in 2005 from Iraq,” said Army veteran Justin Ross.
Ross honorably served his country for eight years with the U.S. Army. Even after getting hit by an IED and mortar rounds, he kept going strong.
“Even my buddies, they don't know how I survived. My Shadow, my footprint, my bottom of my boot was burnt to the ground and melted, so I just got lucky,” Ross said.
The sacrifices he made for his country will last the rest of his life.
“I have several broken vertebrae in my lower back; they never healed so I got bone spurs that are hitting my spinal cord. Inside my right leg, from the knee down, is partially paralyzed. I got small mobility issues,” said Ross.
But the post-traumatic stress he lives with is even more painful.
“It makes you emotional. Now everything just, it hits you like a brick, sledgehammer to the chest, you get triggered and get something and then you crash,” Ross said.
For years Justin suffered in silence.
“Breaking down and finally getting to that point where it's like I need help, it took a while,” said Ross.
He tried counseling and medication, but nothing seemed to work. Then Justin and his wife started looking into service dogs. “My dog that passed away a few years ago, I had her for 14 years. I would talk to her, she would just smile, lick you, so I just know they have that calming ability,” Ross said.
Three years ago, Justin got in touch with Patriot PAWS, a nonprofit organization that provides service dogs to disabled veterans. “With these dogs, they have ways to brace you to get up, walk with them, they support you, so I look at it as a true service dog,” said Ross.
After a few years on the waiting list - he finally got the call he was hoping for. It was his turn to visit the training facility and learn how to work with the dogs.
“I haven't had anger outbursts at home. I go home, I talk to my family about the dogs, what we do, I show videos and pictures and I don't yell. It's really changed. My wife's happy, so she's happy, I'm happy. Happy wife, happy life,” Ross said.
For the first five days, veterans at the facility work with several different dogs to get a feel for how each one matches up with their needs. On day five they find out which dog they will take home.
Justin was matched with a yellow Labrador retriever named Fuzzy.
“They tell you not to fall in love and I did, and when they told me, I knew it in my heart, I did, but still it overwhelmed me,” said Ross.
Now, with Fuzzy by his side, the former soldier can keep marching forward.
“Cause a dog can save a life ..... It’s going to save mine,” Ross said.
To apply for a dog, donate, volunteer or learn more about Patriot PAWS visit www.patriotpaws.org.