Chicago non-profit training dogs to help veterans cope with PTSD

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CHICAGO — Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a common condition for veterans when they return home.

A local not-for-profit organization offers help for veterans in the form of a four-legged friend.

Located in Chicago’s Bridgeview neighborhood, Paws Assisting Wounded Warriors helps veterans find comfort and protection.

Pam Barnett started her mission nearly 10 years ago.

“It was never supposed to be an organization,” she said. “I was just training one dog for one veteran. I’ve always grown up with veterans and the USO, and someone said they could train a dog for a veteran with PTSD.”

But word spread, and it became a calling.

Staff Sgt Amanda Martinez is a busy mom and at first, she didn’t realize how much she was struggling when she returned to civilian life. 

“It’s like when I was deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan and there’s crowds of people around you. You have to watch everybody all the time. You’re hyper vigilant,” she said. “Once you come back from the war, your brain gets stuck on with PTSD. You can’t shut that button off anymore. I wasn’t leaving the house and I was closing all the windows. And I was having panic attacks.”

Martinez heard about service dogs for veterans and started researching. She came across Paws Assisting Wounded Warriors and quickly realized it was a game changer. 

“When I came (to PAWWS), I  trained for several months before I could even get a dog matched up to me because they have to make sure the veteran is trained before you can even get a dog,” she said.

 It’s not a quick process, but Martinez is one of several who say it’s well worth it.

 The person doesn’t pick the dog, the dog picks the person. 

And Francis picked Martinez.

“Francis has turned my life around completely,” she said. “When Francis sees me panicking, he’s like, ‘Oh, my mom is panicking.’ And he’s licking my hands or running around in circles, and he’s cuddling with me or he’s lying on me. And my panic starts to go down.)

PAWWS is an organization of volunteers. On top of that, the veterans don’t pay for their service dog’s food or medical care. PAWWS wants veterans to focus on living their lives.

That’s why this recent donation from Bolingbrook-based Crane Nuclear means so much. It’s a mission rooted in bringing light and love to those who’ve sacrificed for the country.

PAWWS likes to work with Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers and standard poodles for vets with allergies. Most of the dogs are named for fallen service members.’

More information on their website http://www.pawws.org/

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