A local disabled veteran received a special four-legged gift Tuesday that will change his life forever.
Garland firefighter and former Navy seaman Devon Colbert was critically injured in December 2012 in a head-on collision. He was Christmas shopping with his two-year-old son, who thankfully was uninjured in the horrific wreck.
Doctors told Colbert's wife he'd be paralyzed from the neck down, but after intensive physical therapy, Colbert is now able to move his waist and arms and has limited use of his hands.
Nevertheless, ordinary chores can be a daily struggle for him.
"If I drop the keys, yeah, that can be a few minutes out of my day, or dropping a bottle," he said. "And all those minutes add up."
The local non-profit group Patriot Paws has more than 75 service dogs to give to disabled veterans in North Texas, and they've been working for a long time to help Colbert.
Colbert is getting "Johnny," an 18-month-old goldendoodle. Johnny's been in training since he was a little puppy. Colbert and Johnny have spent only a few days together to review commands and get adjusted to daily family life, but now Johnny is going home for good.
At a special ceremony at Huffines Auto Dealership in Plano, Johnny received his service dog graduation diploma and was sent home with Colbert and his family. It was a very emotional moment.
Even after just a few days together, Colbert and Johnny are inseparable. Johnny calmly rested his head on Colbert's lap in the wheelchair during his interview with NBC5.
"There are days that are tough. He can tell, he feels it, and he takes that away," Colbert said with a smile. "If I drop the keys near me, I don't have to fight my hands. I can just say 'uh-oh' and he puts them right back in my lap."
"It not only helps Devon, but everyone in the family, giving Devon a bit of his independence back," said Lori Stevens, the director of Rockwall-based Patriot Paws.
"We're training dogs for strong, capable veterans. They just need a bit of help. It's those small tasks that add up to a better quality of life," she said. "We're proud to help."
Each dog takes up to two years to train and costs about $25,000. They know more than 60 commands.
Huffines Auto Dealership in Plano also donated a Jeep Patriot to Patriot Paws, which will be used to train even more dogs for local veterans.
"We wanted to do something to help our veterans this week. And we're honored to assist this group that dedicates their time and resources helping so many of our local veterans," said dealership owner Ray Huffines.
Patriot Paws says more than 100 veterans are on a wait list for a service animal, and the need is growing.
"We're happy to be able to help them," Huffines said.