LAWTON, OK (KSWO) - A local animal rescue and a dog trainer are teaming up to bring service dogs to soldiers in southwest Oklahoma for free. Last fall, the Companions for Warriors Project started as a part of the Rainbow Bridge Can Wait Animal Rescue. Stephenson Gourgue with Man's Best Friend Dog Training came to them looking for dogs that could be trained as service dogs, and paired with soldiers with anxiety and PTSD. After the first soldier and dog match, they decided to create this partnership.
Rainbow Bridge Can Wait founder Carol Skinner says that one of their dogs, Scarlett, kept getting returned after being adopted. She knew that she was a good dog that just needed a purpose and someone to protect.
That's the story with most of the dogs that have been paired or waiting to be paired up with a soldier. They need the soldiers as much as the soldiers need them.
"You'd never think you'd have such a great bond with something," said D.J., who received a service dog. "Because you are so used to being around your battle buddies, your battle brothers and sisters that when you've been allotted this opportunity you just kind of take it and you run with it."
D.J. is one of the three soldiers who have been training their dogs after getting paired with them from the Companions for Warriors Project.
"They know you better than yourself half the time, and I think that's really cool," said D.J.
After the dogs have been paired with their soldiers, the training starts. They meet once a week with Man's Best Friend dog trainer Stephenson Gourgue to learn the basics like sit and stay, but also how to respond to their soldier's needs. Sophia Zamano and her dog Scarlett are just a few weeks away from taking the certification to become a service dog.
Zamano says her life and her family's has changed for the better with Scarlett.
"When she sees that myself or my children are hurt or you know the way I'm feeling, like my anxiety attacks, she comes to us," said Zamano. "So it's just a bond that I just never knew was even possible."
Every dog is donated by the Rainbow Bridge Can Wait Animal Rescue, and the training is free. So the soldiers don't spend a dime in getting their companion.
Gourgue says pairing the soldiers with the dogs is the most important part of this program.
"Once I get the bonding there everything is easy," said Gourgue. "Because the dog wants to work to make the soldier happy, and the soldier is happy because the dog is willing to work for them."
Skinner says seeing the bonds between the soldiers and their dogs is breathtaking.
"It's like all of a sudden now they are home, and I know that they are not going to be returned," said Skinner.
The Companions for Warriors Projects has dogs ready to be matched up with soldiers, and they are asking soldiers or someone who knows a soldier that could benefit from getting a service dog through this program to call up Man's Best Friend Dog Training at 501-765-0097.
Skinner says to offset waiving all of the fees normally required to adopt a dog, they have started to accept donations specifically for the Companions for Warriors Project. To donate, you can give money to their PayPal account through their email address at email@example.com or in person at any of their adoption events.