TAMPA, Fla. (FOX 13) - Everywhere you turn at the Warrior Games, you’re likely to see a veteran with their service dog. For Marine Corp Veteran Brandon Stevenson, it’s his lifeline.
“He’s saved my life on multiple occasions,” Stevenson said of his dog, an American bulldog.
Jack Daniels has been Stevenson’s sidekick for years. He got him when he was just 6 months old. Now, he’s 5 years old. The veteran served for several years in Iraq and Afghanistan, and needed several surgeries after he got out. He says that’s when he was going through a hard time, and decided he needed a change.
"I was going through surgeries, going through recoveries, I just wanted to stay at home, and not go to places. I didn't want to do anything,” he said.
He went through a year and a half of training with a private company, a common route.
But the state of Florida is pushing for more options. Wednesday, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the alternative therapy bill into law.
“It is going to study five different types of alternative therapies,” said Danny Burgess, with the Department of Veterans Affairs in Florida. “One of those types of therapies is service animals; K-9 service animals."
The law will allow the Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs to contract with a state university or Florida College System institution to provide several alternative treatment options.
“What we want to do is have a Florida-based study that shows this [service animals] actually works,” Burgess said. “That the service animals help them overcome what they are struggling with.”
But it’s easier said than done, Vet dogs cost upwards of $50,000 to raise, train and care for. Something many simply can’t afford.
Stevenson figured out a way around that when he went through a company in his local area, Ambassador Bullies Training Company.
"I had the blessing of being trained by the personal trainer, so I was able to work my service dog Monday through Friday, and then I would work with the trainer Mondays and Fridays,” he said.
And he wouldn’t trade it for the world.
"He's full of love, full of joy,” Stevenson said. “No matter what I’m doing he's always got my six. He's just a big loving giant is what he is."