Group: Service dogs could stop veteran suicide epidemic

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Before he met Maxwell the Rottweiler, Vietnam veteran Calvin Dyer suffered horrible effects from post traumatic stress disorder.

What a difference the dog has made.

"When I go into a flashback, I don't panic as bad with the dog around. I got a good feeling he's going to bark and call for help," says the 72-year-old.

Dyer is the 110th graduate of K-9 Partners For Patriots, based in Brooksville. It's one of a growing number of training programs claiming dramatic success using service dogs to help veterans and first responders with PTSD.

The organization's founder, Mary Peter, says a dog saved one of the students from suicide last year.

"He didn't know what he was doing, but he started cutting his wrists and the dog stopped him," Peter said.

She and others are pushing Congress to pass the PAWS Act. It would have the Veterans Administration start a pilot program to fund the training of hundreds of dogs for PTSD. Currently, the VA doesn't use or underwrite dogs for PTSD.

"They say they don't have the proof that the dogs work, so that's what we're getting for them, statistics that this works," says Peter.

She says St. Leo and Purdue are among those scientifically studying the effectiveness of the dogs, which can be of any breed or size. Peter says there's no doubt in her mind.

"It absolutely works," she says. "We're living proof."

They have support from Congressman Gus Bilirakis and others. They expect the research to arrive soon and aid their push in Washington.