Soldier dogs helping veterans get back on their feet - 14 News, WFIE, Evansville, Henderson, Owensboro

Soldier Dogs helping veterans get back on their feet

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Tony and Bing walking through Target Tony and Bing walking through Target
Porkchop Porkchop
Bing Bing

For the thousands of veterans coming back from war, reintegrating back into society can be a real battle.

But a new organization called Soldier Dogs for Independence is making it easier, one dog at a time. 

"I get a lot of people that look at me and say, why do you have a dog," says Tony Sturgeon, a Gulf War Veteran.

When most people see a dog at Target, they assume it's a seeing eye dog.

However, as Tony Sturgeon and Michael Barrentine, both veterans will tell you, that's not always true.

"A lot of guys, they really can't cope with going to a busy place," says Barrentine, an Iraq Vet. 

Barrentine is dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

"You can't really tell who the bad guys and the good guys are. So when you actually get in a crowd, you're more anxious. More checking where every one is, what they have on them," he says.

That's where Porkchop and Bing come in.

"He has your six, every time we go anywhere, he has your back," says Barrentine.

These pit bulls are two of the newest graduates of the Soldier Dogs for Independence program.

It trains dogs to perform skills specific to veterans.

"Such as blocking, taking medication, things like that to get freedom back and independence back," says Barrentine.

Porkchop actually senses when Michael's blood sugar is high or low.

"He actually guides me to where my medication is, and he will wait for me to take my medication before he eats. He will not eat if I don't take my medication," he says.

Then there are things that can't be taught.

"He consistently wakes me up from nightmares. He feels when my body tenses up. And from there he will jump on me, if that doesn't work he will push me, lick me, growl at me whatever it takes to get my attention to get me up," says Barrentine.

How much of a difference has Porkchop made? Just ask Linda Drake, who works with Soldier Dogs.

"Mike came into the program, the first time I met him, was very loud, angry, a very unhappy person. And now he's just so calm and laid back," says Linda.

Tony Sturgeon served in the Gulf War. Now he's living with a brain tumor that gives him seizures.

"When I have seizures, he'll get underneath my head so that my head's not banging on the floor and he'll stay with me till I get up," says Sturgeon.

Bing has always been important to Tony, but this summer, Tony found out just how important.

"At the end of June, Bing saved my life. I was working outside with him and we were doing training and I blacked out, busted the whole side of my face and Bing rolled me over, stayed with me got me to. Once he got me to, he got me lead down here to me wife. The only reason I'm looking up, I believe in my heart, is because of my dog. He is my lifeline," says Tony.

Overseas these guys carried rifles to stay safe, now at home, who would have thought help would come in the form of a pit bull.

It costs between $500 and $600 dollars to train a dog in the program, and Mike and Tony say they will never turn a veteran away.

With the program growing, Soldier Dogs needs help from the community. 

If you would like to help out, just call 812-550-3469.

You can also go to the Soldier Dogs website by clicking on this sentence.

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