Some animals go above and beyond the call of duty. Recently the American Humane Association gave out their Hero Dog Awards. While all the finalists’ stories are inspiring (you can read them here), this one is my favorite.


service dog, pets for vets, ptsd


If servicemen have the hardest jobs in the world, service dogs have the second hardest.


My name is Captain Jason Haag (USMC, Ret.), and five years ago I was diagnosed with PTSD and traumatic brain injury after returning from two combat tours in the Middle East. When I finally made it home, I was in a constant state of severe depression and mental agony. I struggled with alcohol abuse and took more than 30 medications to deal with my debilitating symptoms.


In 2012, my wife urged me to reach out to K9s for Warriors, an organization that provides veterans with service canines. That’s how I met my lifesaver, a German Shepherd named Axel.


In combat, every soldier is paired up with a battle buddy. These days, my battle buddy isn’t another Marine. It’s Axel. Day in and day out, he’s by my side, ensuring that I’m in a constant state of peace and not fear. Sometimes all it takes is a little nudge from Axel to remind me that I’m out of the combat zone. Other times, Axel goes into full activation mode, using his training to remove me from an environment when a severe panic attack has begun.


When I met Axel, he was one week away from being put down, sleeping on a shelter floor. And I was sleeping in my basement with a gun under my pillow. Now I share a bed with a big and furry security blanket. And he’s a heck of a lot softer.


Source: American Humane Association Hero Dog Awards website


The American Humane Association also announced their American Hero Veterinarian and Veterinary Technician Awards. Dr. Annette Sysel won for her “excellence in clinical practice and research and most importantly her generosity as a resource to pet owners,” and Julie Carlson for starting and running “Vets for Vets’ Pets,” an organization dedicated to helping the pets of homeless and at-risk veterans. Congratulations!


For more information, check out the Hero Veterinarian and Hero Veterinary Technician Award website.


Thanks to all of you who help make the world a better place for people and animals. I hope you have a wonderful holiday with your loved ones, whatever species they may be!



Dr. Jennifer Coates