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Veteran says service dog saved him from himself

By Rana Novini, Anchor/Reporter, r.novini@krdo.com
Published On: Apr 18 2014 07:44:57 PM CDT
Updated On: Apr 21 2014 01:45:21 PM CDT

Red Friday Hero: Duke the service dog

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -

Even as a little kid, all Justin Bryant wanted to do was join the military.  He looked up to his father's long military career and figured he would do the same.

But three tours of duty, particularly the last one to Afghanistan, ended his dreams.  He suffered injuries to his knee, back and was diagnosed with PTSD.  He had trouble sleeping and crippling anxiety.

"I've seen civilians killed on the battlefield," Bryant said.  "Friends getting blown up in trucks.  It was a life-changing experience."

In December, at the recommendation of his doctors, Bryant was medically retired from the Army.

"I wasn't able to do what I wanted to do anymore," Bryant said.  "I'd wake up in the middle of the night. I'd clear my house. I'd wake up gasping for air."

Unable to leave his house because of depression and anxiety, Bryant and his wife decided to look for a pet.  His wife spotted an Australian-Shepherd mix online and he immediately caught her eye.

"She actually found him on Pet Finder and fell in love with his ears," Bryant said.  

When Bryant visited the dog, Duke, at the shelter, he said he felt an instant connection.  Bryant connected with the organization Pets for Patriots and started to train Duke to be a service dog in April 2012.

"When I get mad or upset, he'd come lay his head on me," he said.  "I'd play with his head a little bit.  I felt better."

Now, Bryant isn't homebound.  With Duke's guidance, he's able to attend big sporting events and is training to make the Paralympic snowboard team.

"Anytime I get anxious or anything, I just reach down and pet him and he's there," Bryant said.  

Bryant said he doesn't feel like a burden to society anymore and hopes that other service members will consider a service animal if they find themselves battling the issues he does.  He strongly believes that the suicide rate among veterans would decrease if service animals were more prevalent.  

"Honestly, without a shadow of a doubt, there's probably no way I'd be here," Bryant said.  "This dog has saved my life."

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