We are honoring our veterans today — and Veteran Louie from Ohio has served our country both in the Army and as an essential worker on the frontlines of the pandemic as a paramedic, alongside a very special partner …
His sweet service dog, Star.
"She came to me through K9s for Warriors," Louie tells us. "K9s for Warriors is a veteran canine program. They pair service dogs with veterans, and she is a 5-year-old golden retriever. We've been together for four years."
RELATED: We Surprise An Army Veteran Who Rescues, Trains + Provides Service Dogs Free of Charge To Other Vets
Louie says he and his wife tried everything to help with his PTSD before he sought help from K9s for Warriors and was ultimately paired with Star.
"I was in the Army for nine years. I was deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. Got out as a Captain, and I suffered from PTSD and traumatic brain injury," he explains. "When I came back from overseas, I pretty much went right back to work as a paramedic, and in 2016, my wife and I were trying to figure out what the best resource could be for us to try and prevent my PTSD flare-ups — nightmares, sleepwalking. There wasn't anything specific that really helped. I tried pretty much anything that you could think of before I went down to get into the program with K9s for Warriors."
"90 percent of their dogs are rescues, which is phenomenal," Louie continues. "They'll go to kill shelters and pick and choose all the dogs that they feel can be trained at that point, usually around a year or two old, so they have a good, long life with the veteran."
In their four years together so far, Star has helped Louie in countless ways, the vet says.
"There are a number of things that Star does for me with my PTSD," Louie says. "The main ones are at nighttime. She will actually wake me up from nightmares. She'll come to the side of the bed and paw at my head. She always places herself between the door and where I'm sleeping, so that she's always able to be the first response to something."
Our hearts! And that's not all. Star helps Louie at work, too — blazing the trails for other service dogs.
"Star actually rides on the ambulance with me," the veteran explains. "She's the first dog in the country to ride on an ambulance with her handler. We are hoping to change that in the future and open more eyes to it. There's a lot of emotions in EMS, and there's a lot of emotions when it comes to trying to save someone's life or work on somebody at a scene. She's able to distinguish the two and respond appropriately, and that's one of the main reasons that she needs to be with me all the time."
As you can imagine, Louie's job was directly impacted by the Covid pandemic, so when Louie had to adjust, so did Star. And she's doing way more than just adjusting.
"Covid-19 has been an interesting hiccup in our world," Louie says. "For EMS workers, paramedics, hospital staff everywhere, it's kind of picked up the pace patient-wise and the things that we're dealing with. When Covid originally hit, I knew [Star] was very, very smart. And I knew that we could possibly work out a way for her to detect Covid."
"When a person's infected with Covid, they give off a different skin cell change that she can pick up," he continues. "So we worked pretty hard and we worked with a hospital out of Kettering, Ohio, to get supplies so that we could train her to detect Covid, and she's been doing that ever since." Wow!
Star's ability to help with the pandemic doesn't come without its struggles, though.
"It's been kind of challenging on the frontlines with Covid with Star, so we did have to kind of change the way we do things a little bit," Louie explains. "She's had to wear extra gear, which takes a little bit of time to get one her, but we've had to alter the way we do things a little bit so that we could ensure that she is safe and I'm safe.
"It's a good feeling to be able to continue to do my job with Star," the veteran says, "because I don't know where I would be without her." 🧡
We wanted to make sure K9s for Warriors could keep doing what they're doing for veterans like Louie, so our friends at Chewy are giving them a $5,000 gift card so they can get everything they need for the dogs.
Louie and Star are part of our "Thanks For Giving" series, highlighting amazing people doing good every day until Thanksgiving. Read more inspiring stories here.