WDAY: The News Leader

Published June 14, 2011, 07:42 PM

Dogs help Veterans transition

Fargo, ND (WDAY TV) - The transition from war to civilian life can be a hard one that few understand. Becker County is trying to make that step a little easier with Man's Best Friend.

Geoff Zehnacker never imagined himself needing a service dog. Then, in 2005, while serving overseas, everything changed.

Geoffrey Zehnacker – Breckenridge, MN: “I took a blast at about five feet, I took some shrapnel that had no long term effects, but I also sustained a brain injury.”

Zehnacker now takes his dog Luke with him most places. Luke is a trained hunter turned psychiatric service dog.

Zehnacker: He lets me get out and do things instead of being shut in and avoiding things, I have every intention of recovering from my problems and he enhances the recovery process.

After receiving numerous requests for dogs like just like Luke, the Veterans Affairs Office for Becker County implemented the Patriot Assistance Dogs program today. Now every time a veteran goes to the office, a dog will be there to help them cope.

Lauri Brooke – Veteran Service Officer: Just for us to ask them the question, can you tell me what that was like, to know that you don't need to say anything and they understand where you're at has been priceless.

Becker County will be the first in Minnesota to offer a program like this.

Zehnacker: Simply by having him in there, somebody that comes in and needs mental help and they're having problems. It's something that can calm and soothe them.

The cost to train a dog is nearly 25 thousand dollars, but the county hopes to receive enough donations to eventually offer permanent service dogs to veterans at no cost. It's estimated more than 400 veterans in Becker County suffer from P-T-S-D.