When veterans are approved for a service dog from Patriot PAWS, they are added to a waiting list.
For many that wait lasts more than three years because of how many veterans the organization is already trying to help. So meeting their dog and graduating is a special moment for the veterans and Patriot PAWS staff alike.
This year that ceremony was extra special because it fell on Veterans Day.
“It's a day to recognize all the brave men and women who, in some cases, have risked everything,” said U.S. Rep. John Ratcliffe, (R) Texas, during the graduation ceremony.
At a time when veterans all across the nation are reminded how grateful people are for the sacrifices they made, five of them, who lost a piece of themselves when they took off their uniforms, got some of the respect they deserve.
“Patriot PAWS really epitomizes that the best way to honor veteran’s service to our country is through our service back to them,” Ratcliffe said.
All five of the vets that graduated Friday live with post-traumatic stress from their time in the military. Some also have physical injuries. Each of them hopes the answer to their troubles comes with four paws and a wagging tail.
“I didn't want to go anywhere. Logan is going to let me go places,” said Army veteran Alice Crosby.
Patriot PAWS has been providing service dogs free of cost to disabled veterans for the last ten years. As word spread about the healing power in the animals, the list of applicants skyrocketed. For the first time this year, Patriot PAWS staff had no choice but to turn some veterans away.
“Well, because we have so many veterans and so many calls every week, we cannot continue to keep putting people on a list. You can't expect somebody to wait for a long, long time,” said Patriot PAWS founder Lori Stevens.
Crosby waited more than three years for a trained pup. Friday, she got to take him home for good.
“It was a long wait, but it was totally worth it,” Crosby said.
Currently, in the United States, 22 veterans a day commit suicide. Stevens hopes that every time she places a dog, one less veteran will end up as a statistic.
“It's easier to ask for a dog than it is to ask for another doctor’s appointment,” said Stevens.
With 125 veterans on the waiting list, Stevens has spent some long nights hoping she can get help to those who need it before the clock runs out.
“I worry. I worry every day,” Stevens said.
That's why every time she hosts a graduation ceremony, it feels like a victory.
“Four years ago, I'd lost hope and now I've got nothing but hope,” said Crosby
“It makes a difference one paw at a time,” Stevens said.
In order to place more dogs with more veterans in less time, Patriot PAWS needs help from the public.
To donate, volunteer, apply for a dog or learn more about the organization visit www.patriotpaws.org.