Local dog trainer helps veterans heal

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News 12 First at Five/ July 24, 2014

AUGUSTA, Ga.--Veterans can have a number of reasons for needing a service dog, everything from helping with injuries, to coping with PTSD. But, getting or training a service dog can cost thousands. A local dog trainer is trying to help cut those costs. Jerry Lyda is pairing veterans, like Stephen Lewandowski, with service dogs and training them for free.

Lewandowski is retired a retired Marine. He also served in the Army. He says, "I used to have really bad nightmares where I was averaging 3-4 hours of sleep a night. I was on tranquilizers and stuff and Gus, he'll acutally wake me up when I have a nightmare."

Stephen was medically evacuated from Iraq. He's now disabled and diagnosed with PTSD. The VA referred him to veteran K-9 solutions for help. He says, "They wrote me a prescription for him, and I came out here and K-9 solutions found him for me."

They rescued Gus from a local shelter, where Jerry Lyda finds a lot of his dogs for veterans.

Lyda says, "If they don't have one, or that dog doesn't work out, then we go to the kill shelters. This is where we say our slogan is saving 2 lives at a time."

Lyda has been training dogs since he was 12, but he's also a Vietnam veteran whose seen firsthand what soldiers go through.

He says, "I've had a lot of friends that were messed up from Vietnam. Had a lot of them that didn't come home."

He realized his talent for training dogs could help his fellow veterans get back to a more normal life.

The VA estimates 22 veterans commit suicide every day. Stephen says K-9 solutions was his answer for coping with PTSD.

He says, "A lot of people will never understand it. They can try to, but they never will. It saved my life. It really did."

K-9 solutions has applied for non-profit status. They're hoping to apply for grant money to help grow the program. For more information on the program, go to: http://www.veteransk9solutions.org/