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Service Dogs for Soldiers: Helping Our Veterans

Shannon Walker Service Dogs
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Isaac Lane Koval

"Other ex-soldiers who met Kevin at the VA began contacting Shannon, so she and the twins began schooling more animals. Shannon had learned obedience training at 24, when her future husband demanded she discipline her unruly shepherd or get rid of him. That's when she discovered Schutzhund, a German sport involving tracking, obedience and protection. "I knew right away that was what I wanted to do," she says.

Shannon began training dogs at home and eventually opened her kennel in 1999 -- no easy feat with 4-year-old twins. "The boys would go down for a nap and I'd run outside for a bit to work with the dogs," she says. "Later, I had the kids wash feed bowls and tag along on walks." Jarod now puts in 20 hours a week (40 during school breaks). Jacob logs almost as much time but says his devotion is nothing compared to his mom's. "She's the greatest," he says. "She's a gift from God."

Shannon customizes each canine's training. "Veterans with back injuries require animals who can pick things up," she explains. "And I have one gal who needs the dog to bark when the alarm goes off because she is deaf in one ear." Randy Guillory, 60, a Vietnam vet still suffering from nightmares, now holds his pit bull Leia's paw during the night. When he trembles in his sleep, Leia licks his face, which stops the dream. "None of my ex-wives would wake me up," says Randy. "I have a good friend here now. I'm a happy man."

Despite strong anecdotal evidence about the benefits of service dogs for vets with PTSD, the VA won't pay for them, making Shannon's job even more critical. She found a veterinarian to provide free medical care, and a company that regularly donates thousands of pounds of dog food. In addition to investing her own money, Shannon holds fundraisers and is looking into grants to ensure that NBB survives and grows. "We rely on the hearts of people who believe in our mission," she says. "When I hand over an animal to a veteran, I know that both the dog and the owner will respect, protect and love each other. It's an awesome moment -- and the beginning of an incredible relationship."

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Originally published in the March 2013 issue of Family Circle magazine.