Veteran canine is top dog in service category; advances in hero dog award contest

By KRISTIN DAVIS | The Free Lance-Star, Fredericksburg, Va. (Tribune News Service) | Published: July 8, 2015

Jason Haag spent much of the morning of July Fourth pacing a yard at Lake Anna, where he had come to celebrate both his and the nation’s birthday with his family.

The retired Marine captain was waiting to learn whether his service dog, Axel, had been chosen as one of eight finalists for the American Humane Association’s Hero Dog Award.

The honor would mean $2,500 for his chosen charity, Dogs on Deployment. It would also mean more publicity for the nonprofit that paired him with Axel three years ago, an event Haag said saved his life.

The eight finalists would be posted online July 4. But at Lake Anna that morning, Internet service on his cell phone was spotty.

“I was walking around the lake trying to get” a signal, he said.

Just after noon he got the connection—and the news—he’d hoped for.

Axel had won the service dog category.

As Haag and his family reveled in the victory, the German shepherd took the rest of the day off.

“We just let Axel play and run around. He got to relax,” he said. “Now it’s back to work.”

The retired Marine and his service dog were scheduled to appear on “Fox and Friends” at 6 a.m. today to promote K9s for Warriors.

The nonprofit has provided service animals to more than 160 post-9/11 veterans, including Haag, diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.

By 2011, after three combat deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, Haag’s symptoms of PTSD were so severe he could not leave his home in Spotsylvania County.

Efforts to get the condition under control — including dozens of drug therapies— worked only temporarily.

Only after receiving Axel did Haag experience lasting recovery, he told The Free Lance-Star earlier this year. “To get Axel was to get past everything destructive I was doing in my life.”

The retired Marine has devoted himself to promoting K9s for Warriors ever since, helping raise more than $100,000 for the nonprofit.

The final round of voting for the American Humane Association’s Hero Dog Award began Monday and lasts through Sept. 7 at herodogawards.org/vote.

If Axel wins the final prize, Dogs on Deployment will receive another $5,000.

The charity provides fostering for dogs of deploying service members who otherwise would have to give up their pets to a shelter.

Among the other finalists are Dax, a law enforcement dog credited with saving a police officer from being shot and Rambo, a military working dog who endured a limb amputation. Also in the running: Hudson, a therapy dog found tied to a railroad track with a missing paw and Harley, a one-eyed canine from a puppy mill who spent a decade confined to a small cage.

As Haag waits for the votes to come in, he said, “we’re looking to spreading the word a lot more.”

Haag hopes the honor will shed more light on what service dogs can do for veterans like him.

Kristin Davis: 540/374-5417



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