Guardians of Rescue program pairs veterans in need of companion with animals in need of home

John Walis is a tough-looking Army veteran, but his face gets soft when he talks about his dog, Tommy.

"What he's done for me, living with PTSD," said Walis. "The unconditional love."

Walis said that since he adopted the 40-pound, mixed-breed bundle of snowy white fur, he has been less anxious, angry and irritable.

"I spend a lot of time with him. It makes me happy," he said. "Tommy has done just tremendous things in my life."

Dogs can do that, said Robert Misseri, head of Guardians of Rescue, a nonprofit group that looks to help animals in need.

Members of the New York-based animal rescue group came to Fort Bragg last week to publicize its Paws of War program in which it provides rescued dogs to veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder or other psychological conditions.

"There's no therapy like a dog licking your face all day long," Misseri said.

The group came to Fort Bragg to pick up nine dogs from the post's animal shelter. Misseri said the dogs had likely belonged to soldiers before they were lost or abandoned, possibly as a result of a move or deployment. Now, they will be placed with hurting veterans who could use a devoted furry friend.

Misseri said the Paws to War program tries to focus on dogs with a military connection. This was its first rescue of animals at a military animal shelter, but more are planned.

Meanwhile, since its founding in 2010, Guardians of Rescue has helped bring 10 dogs to the United States from Afghanistan, where they had been cared for by U.S. soldiers. Some were reunited with the soldiers who cared for them there.

At least one, Tommy, found a home in this country with a different soldier -- Wallis, who had served in Afghanistan himself in 2009. He said he lived in an apartment on Long Island in New York and wasn't thinking about getting a pet when he attended an adoption promotion held last year by Guardians of Rescue.

Then he saw Tommy.

"Love at first sight," he said.

Walis now manages the Paws to War program for Guardians of Rescue. He said the group screens veterans and dogs ahead of time to improve the matching process, and it follows up on adoptions to make sure everything is going well.

If a veteran is struggling with dog-care costs, the group helps out. If a dog can't be placed with a veteran, the group finds it a home with a civilian.

Misseri said the group does not mean for its dogs -- and, later, rescued cats -- to replace necessary medical treatment.

But he believes pets can provide more help to veterans with PTSD than many realize.

Kenneth Chambers, another veteran who volunteers with Guardians of Rescue, said the PTSD he suffered after serving in Iraq was helped immeasurably after he got Adalida, a stumpy-tailed Australian shepherd mix.

"She saved my life in a way that no doctor, no medicine, no friends or family could do," said Chambers, who lives in Florida.

Someone stole Adalida last year. Chambers said he was devastated. He continues to look for her.

Walis also preaches the benefit of owning a dog.

"I have a cabinet full of medications they give me every month to make me feel better," he said. "Now I don't take half of it. That's how much that dog has done for me."

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