Our Patriot PAWS dog, Tommy, is almost five-months-old now as he continues his socialization and training with FOX 7 to become a service dog for a veteran.
Recently Tommy visited ABIA and with all the distractions it really put his training to the test! Thousands of passengers pass through the airport every day and all of those people and their luggage can catch a puppy's attention and take it away from his trainer.
It's the job of FOX 7 trainers to help Tommy cope with all of that action and remain calm throughout. One day he may help a veteran navigate an airport and whether the veteran has a mobility issue or PTSD, Tommy will be there to keep him or her safe and calm.
Service dogs are allowed to fly with their veteran so checking out security and baggage claim is all part of Tommy's training. The goal of Patriot PAWS is to change the lives of veterans with disabilities. They've already placed more than 120 dogs with men and women who've served our country.
One of those veterans is Army Vet Sgt. 1st Class Aaron Mixell. Mixell served in the U.S. Army for 20 years and for 15 of them he was deployed to different war zones.
"I've been shot a few times three times left shoulder left elbow left wrist got hit with an ied blind on my right side four brain surgeries," Mixell says.
Of all the injuries Mixell has overcome, the most painful one was invisible.
"All the physical stuff is less debilitating than the PTSD," Mixell says.
Adjusting to civilian life after his time in Bosnia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait and other war torn nations was more difficult than Mixell expected.
"When you're in combat your brain processes so many decisions that is this a danger is this not the best way to do something and when we come back home that does not stop. So when we're driving down a street we take for granted trash on the side of the road cars looking weird, garbage cans, we're processing each one of those as a threat and so we are physically exhausted just getting out of the house," Mixell says.
Mixell's relationships with his friends and family suffered and eventually he decided it was easier not to face the world at all and he says "...once you start staying at home you just don't come back out."
Then while being treated at a PTSD clinic, Mixell visited a Bass Pro Shop with his wife and found one that seemed to make the time pass a little easier.
"A puppy raiser walked up with a cute little puppy and it sat on my lap and my wife got a business card. I realized I'd been sitting there for an hour with this puppy," Mixell says.
The puppy raiser was with Patriot PAWS and within a few months Mixell was on the waiting list for a dog of his own. Two and a half years later he walked out with Chief and his life changed forever.
"I get out of the house that's a big one. I was on about 30 meds 30 pills a day and I'm down to one or two. I would sleep 15, 20 minutes at a time might get two hours a night. Chief came home with me inside of about two days I was sleeping seven to eight hours a night. I don't know why that is. I'm not a doctor or a trainer. I know my dog jumps on the bed and I sleep consistently," Mixell says.
Mixell is one of more than 120 veterans who've found a better life with the help of a Patriot PAWS service dog.
"Chief helps me up and down stairs...I can't go up and down stairs. I can't put my head below my heart so he picks things up off the ground, brings me my shoes, regulates most of my medication, taps me when I get really stressed and takes me out of those situations," Mixell says.
As Mixell knows firsthand sometimes when there's nothing else medication or people can do to fix the scars the wars left behind, help can come in the form of a four legged friend.
"There's not a pill the VA can give you that these dogs can provide for you."
You can follow all of Tommy's adventures and training with FOX 7 and get more information about Patriot PAWS here.