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PTSD Service Dogs Offered for Free to Texas Veterans

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There's a special program right here in North Texas using service dogs to help veterans living with PTSD.

On a sunny afternoon, Veteran Stephen Dillon plays a game of fetch with his dog Sven.

It's a simple thing, but for Stephen the interaction has been life-changing.

Sven is a specially trained PTSD service dog.

The dog helps Stephen cope with post-traumatic stress disorder. Anxious in public spaces, Sven helps calm Stephen.

"I would never go out of my house," Stephen said. "I would just stay here all day and now I can go out. He interrupts any sort of anxiety triggers I may have."

In the Marine Corps for 10 years, including two deployments in Afghanistan, Stephen is now a full-time student.

He said seeing how mental illness led to his friends and fellow Marines taking their own lives prompted him to face his own challenges.

"I had to do some soul-searching within myself and admit I do have issues," Stephen said. "I don't want to be another statistic."

He discovered the PTSD service dog program offered through a partnership with Baylor, Scott & White and Canine Companions for Independence.

The program is offered free to Texas Veterans.

The dogs learn how to turn on lights in a dark room, fetch medicine, react to someone having a nightmare and can ease anxiety.

"The goal of that is to keep the veteran in the moment and you can't ignore a cute dog when it's right there," said Veteran program specialist for Canine Companions Chelsey Darrow.

An Army Veteran, Darrow saw the impact dogs had on her fellow soldiers while deployed in Afghanistan. When she returned home, she started training them.

"I have a lot of Veterans tell me they don't think they deserve a dog or they're not disabled enough or they don't want to take a dog away from someone else," Chelsey said. "I would say to those folks please just look into it."

In just a few weeks since graduating from the program together, Sven has become part of Stephen's family.

He's a favorite playmate to his daughter and is letting them enjoy things as a family they never thought possible.

"I have so much of a better life now having him," Stephen said.

Stephen encourages anyone looking to help a Veteran to consider donating to the program so more Veterans can have access to its free services.

For more information on how to apply for the program, donate or volunteer, visit: https://www.cci.org/location/south-central/ or https://www.bswhealth.com/about/community-involvement/community-outreach-programs/Pages/canine-companions.aspx.

If you or someone you know is in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or reach out to the Crisis Text Line by texting ‘Home’ to 741741.

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