TAMPA (FOX 13) - Carol Lansford knew at the age of four she wanted to spend her life training animals.
“We were at Sea World watching one of the shows, and I turned to my dad and said, ‘that’s what I’m going to do,’” said Lansford, who grew up in Snellville, Georgia.
In high school, she landed an internship at Dolphin Encounters in the Bahamas. While in college at Valdosta State University, she volunteered at Zoo Atlanta, working with reptiles and small mammals. She earned a degree in psychology with an emphasis in animal learning. But while she was finishing her senior year, life sent her in an unexpected direction.
Her boyfriend at the time, Staff Sgt. Justin Lansford, was severely injured in combat in Afghanistan. He lost his left leg above the knee and had many other grave injuries, including collapsed lungs, a broken back, and a ruptured spleen. His recovery and rehab at Walter Reed Medical Center would take more than a year.
Carol moved to Washington, D.C. to be with him. It was there, at Walter Reed, she saw the healing and helping power of service dogs in the lives of wounded veterans.
"That dog can really change their life and make things easier for them," said Lansford. “They can pull wheelchairs, open and close doors, help someone up if they fall, brace someone who is falling, pick up dropped items, and that’s just some of the physical stuff.”
The dogs can also recognize the signs of stress from PTSD. They are trained to break a veteran out of that mental state by nudging their leg with their nose.
Almost by accident, Carol landed a job at Walter Reed training service dogs and training their instructors. After more than a year, she knew what she wanted to do with the rest of her life. In December, she and Justin moved to Tampa to found their non-profit organization, Valor Service Dogs.
The plan was to start small, but when word got out about the organization, wounded veterans began applying for dogs. Carol now has her first permanent facility in Dover and six golden retrievers in training. Each dog has already been matched with a veteran. Carol hopes to keep raising money to get more dogs and help veterans in the Bay area and all over the country.
“I just hope that when I give someone a dog, that that dog can really change their life and make things easier for them,” said Lansford. “This is just sort of my small way to say ‘thank you’. It’s not enough, considering all they have given. It will never be enough.”