Wiregrass veteran returns home with new service dog

Walt and Melissa returned home to Midland after three weeks of training together. (Source: WSFA)
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MIDLAND CITY, AL (WSFA) - An Army National Guard veteran has returned home to Midland City with her new helper, a service dog named Walt.

K9s For Warriors says Melissa Hemming was paired with the shelter-turned-service dog after her arrival at their headquarters in Florida.

Before Walt became a service dog with K9s For Warriors, he was a part of the FCI Marianna’s dog prison program. According to K9s For Warriors Public Relations Manager Brianna Bentov, FCI Marianna got him from a shelter and started training him in their rehabilitation program for prisoners.

The FCI Marianna saw that Walt was eligible for the K9s For Warriors program and later transferred him.

Bentov says eligible dogs must be no more than two years old, 24 inches at the shoulders and at least 50 pounds. They are also required to pass a variety of temperament testing to gauge their aggression and fear, and they must be open to training.

“Walt and Melissa were paired based on a thorough assessment of both of them,” Bentov said. “Warriors go through multiple interviews with our warrior relations staff to understand their personality, home environment and personal needs. “

The pair trained together for three weeks and focused on instructions on matters of service dog access, dog health care and worked to establish a bond that would help Hemming heal from post-war trauma.

“I loved learning about why the program was started, the love of a mother for her son,” said Hemming. “I knew that this program would give me a shot to begin living a productive life outside my home and start doing things I once enjoyed.”

Rory Diamond, CEO of K9s For Warriors believes the program is critical for veterans and their health.

“There’s an epidemic of veteran suicide in our country,” said Diamond. “Service dogs are a proven method of alleviating the debilitating symptoms of PTSD; they not only get our veterans back on their feet, but they also help them regain a sense of normalcy in their lives. Most veterans with PTSD think they’ve lost that forever.”

K9s For Warriors is a national non-profit organization that trains eligible shelter dogs to service veterans experiencing symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Traumatic Brain Injury or Military Sexual Trauma for post-9/11 service members and veterans.

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