When Brigette Parson Dean started Saving Grace K9s, she was confident she’d be helping veterans suffering with PTSD. What she didn’t realize was how much they would change her life, too.
“I see such strength in them, as they keep moving regardless of their pain,” she says. “They inspire me to keep going during my own dark times.”
Unlike most service dog organizations, Saving Grace teaches its clients how to train their own service dog. This move helps keep costs down and allows the non-profit to serve more North Carolina vets in need. Many of the dogs are rescues from a local shelter, but sometimes, Saving Grace staff determine the veteran’s own dog has the skills and temperament to become a service dog.
Regardless of the dog’s past, those that complete Saving Grace’s training program fill important roles in the lives of the veterans they serve. Brigette notes that on at least two occasions, the dogs have prevented their veteran-partners from committing suicide. In one instance, the dog pushed a gun away; in the other, the canine’s unrelenting barking and scratching at the door saved his partner from tragedy. More typically, however, the service dogs help their veterans awaken during nightmares, provide comfort during anxiety attacks and remain grounded when faced with triggering events.
For disabled veteran James Dean, having a trained service dog has been a life-changer. His two dogs, Rebel (now retired due to health issues) and Chunk, help him have a more normal life. “My dogs know when I’m not doing well, mentally or physically,” James says. “They will lay on me because they know it’ll calm me, and they keep me from startling so easily when we are out. With them in my life, I can do things with my family and not have to be constantly on guard.”
Today, James serves as the Veteran Liaison for Saving Grace, a role he relishes as it allows him to help fellow veterans through the training process, from start to finish. “I’ve seen animals change lives – and save lives – through this organization,” he says. No wonder he, Brigette and the rest of the Saving Grace team work so hard to provide North Carolina veterans with what they call a four-legged lifeline.