Program matches unwanted dogs with injured vets

May 20, 2011 4:36:30 PM PDT
Kevin Ellicott of Medford Lakes is a Marine Reservist whose Humvee was hit 14 different times by bombs during his two tours in Iraq.

He suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and a traumatic brain injury as a result.

We met Kevin at K-9 Basic Dog training in Marlton, New Jersey, working with Gunner - a scrappy stray German Shepherd puppy found on the street in Kensington.

This meeting of wounded warriors and tail-waggers is part of a new non-profit program called "Semper Fido." The program matches injured vets with unwanted animals in an effort to help them both.

"What better thing to save 2 lives at one time?" said Lisa Berg, who is helping to organize Semper Fido as a way to help vets fight the effects of brain injuries and PTSD, like anxiety, panic attacks, depression and hyper-vigilance. Those are symptoms that can be calmed by the presence of a companion animal.

"The dogs are going to help reduce a lot of that, help reduce a lot of the anxiety and the fear," said Berg.

"The money they've spent on my medications and my different therapies? A dog is a lot cheaper!" said Ellicott.

Ellicott's puppy Sierra, a black lab he trained, is his constant companion who even rouses him from his nightmares of the war.

"She woke me up from a dead sleep in the middle of a nightmare. Just a gentle nudge and a little kiss to the face and it really grounded me," said Ellicott. "I knew I was back here in the States."

"He kind of relies on her in certain situations. If he sees that she's not afraid, then he's good," Ellicott's wife, Brenda.

Although this is a brand new program, the Semper Fido people say there's already a waiting list with requests from as far away as Kansas and California.

It costs about $2500 to train companion dogs like this. Semper Fido is launching a big push to raise money for the project knowing what a big difference a four-footed friend can make to an injured veteran.

For more information, visit the website for Semper Fido.