Woman's World

Shari and her son train service dogs to provide love and comfort to American heroes!

- —Kristin Higson-hughes

When you feel like giving up, remember why you held on for so long place.” in the first AUTHOR UNKNOWN

It’s a proven fact that animals provide us with healing, joy and comfort. So when Shari Duval’s son came home from the front lines in need of all three, she found a way to help Brett start a brand-new life with the kind of love only a dog can give. And now they’re doing the same for other American heroes!

Walking through the door, Shari Duval noticed her grown son just sitting there, staring blankly.

She counted her blessings that Brett was home—and safe. But after two tours of duty working with explosive-tracking dogs in Iraq, the Brett who’d returned wasn’t the same one she’d kissed goodbye. He never left the house anymore. He never smiled. And if she even tried to start a conversati­on, he’d clam up.

The Ponte Vedra, Florida, mom was proud of the sacrifices Brett had made for our country. Yet now her heart was breaking as she worried: Will I ever get my son back?

A mom’s mission

Inthe weeks following his homecoming, Brett was diagnosed with posttrauma­tic stress disorder (PTSD.)

“How do I help fix this?” Shari asked doctors. There was therapy. Medication­s. But nothing seemed to be working.

Then one day, Shari read about the positive effect service dogs were having on vets with PTSD.

Brett loved dogs. That would be perfect for him! she thought.

At the time, however, there weren’t many organizati­ons providing service dogs to veterans. So it struck Shari: Brett had extensive experience training dogs. What if I got him to train one now? That would give him purpose. And when it’s difficult to talk to people, dogs—well, dogs love unconditio­nally. They just understand. When she told Brett, the light switched on in his eyes for the first time since his return. They visited the shelter, and came home with a Belgian Malinois named Reagan. And a miracle began to unfold. Suddenly, Brett was getting up to feed Reagan. Going outside to walk her. Just petting her both calmed and invigorate­d him. Soon, he was teaching her commands: “Sit.” “Stay.” “Come.” As months passed, she became his shadow, his best friend. With her by his side, his depression lifted. He began laughing. Venturing out to movies and restaurant­s. Even dating! Every American hero deserves to know this hope, relief and independen­ce! Shari and Brett realized. And they started K9s for Warriors (K9sfor Warriors.org) to train and provide service dogs for veterans.

Healing hearts

Taking out a loan, Shari bought a little house with a yard. She and Brett began visiting shelters to find dogs for other “warriors.” And as he worked with the pups, Brett felt himself healing more and more. He even fell in love and became a dad! And soon, with bright eyes and wagging tails, the dogs he trained were helping other veterans readjust to civilian life, too.

Mom of seven Melissa Maher, who served as a medic in Iraq for eight years, returned home with severe anxiety.

“It got to the point I would stay in my room for days,” she recalls.

Then K9s for Warriors paired her with golden retriever Chauncey. Sensitive and sweet, Chauncey would take his fluffy paw when she was agitated and pat Melissa as if to say: You got this, Mama!

After several deployment­s to Afghanista­n, Army veteran Clinton Gorbett says, “I couldn’t shake the fear. I was always on high alert.”

Vancouver, Washington, was nearly 2,500 miles from Florida. But when he and his wife, Keri, learned about K9s for Warriors, they had to try. And when he met Fenton, a German shepherd, Clinton called home and wept, “I don’t feel alone anymore!”

“Fenton’s my 80-pound anxietyred­ucer,” Clinton explains. “With him, I can go places and feel safe again. I’m a better me.”

Before K9s for Warriors, Kevin Crowell had such debilitati­ng PTSD he couldn’t go out or sleep at night. But with his service dog, Bella, by his side, he felt strong again—today he even mentors at K9s for Warriors.

“Shari, Brett and Bella saved my life!” Kevin smiles.

Today, thanks to generous donations, K9 for Warriors has helped almost 300 warrior “teams!” And though Brett still has difficult moments on occasion, knowing he’s making a difference for others— and finding forever homes for shelter dogs—is a gift.

“Reagan was my lifeline some days,” Brett beams. “We saved her, and she saved me.”

“After all they’ve done for America, I’m proud to help these men and women!” adds Shari. “There’s nothing like the healing power of love!”

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