FOND DU LAC (NBC 26) — An organization in Wisconsin is putting man’s best friend on the front lines of veteran care. Dogs2DogTags provides rescue dogs to veterans or military members and helps train them to be service dogs.
The idea came to founder Torre Willadsen while he was training bomb dogs for the Marine Corps.
"I saw the benefits of the dogs while we were in Afghanistan, not only on a working level but on a morale level,” Willadsen said.
But when Willadsen’s battalion got home, the emotional toll of the fighting set in.
"To date, we have more guys that were with us in Afghanistan who have taken their own lives than we lost in combat,” Willadsen said.
That’s how Dogs2DogTags began.
"I had to do something about it. So you know, rescuing dogs, and getting them to our veterans, for free and then the support after that… They get their dogs, whether it's a service animal or support animal is kind of what we, we really strive to do,” Willadsen said.
The program also helps veterans and military members train dogs they already have to be service dogs, which David Tellefsen—who served in the Marines for 22 years—is doing with peaches.
"It wasn't until I retired that I realized that I had a lot of anxiety and depression and other symptoms that come with PTSD,” Tellefsen said. “And so when we picked her up, immediately the connection that I felt to her, it definitely helped calm me down whenever she was around.”
James Darnell, a member of the national guard and a police officer, says his service dog Lolly provides comfort to him and his family.
"She's very kind. . . she's very mild,” Darnell said. “You can see people just attitudes change, feelings change. They may have had a hard day. Often that seems to melt away. You know, it's almost a lesson we can all learn.”
He recommended the program to his coworker and veteran Eli Fuller, who adopted a rescue dog named Lilly.
“I take her for a good, solid 30 to 45-minute walk each morning when I get home from work,” Fuller said. “It’s just a nice, deep way to decompress kind of you know, leave work at work.”
These vets say the bond with their dogs can be life-saving.
"Anybody who has a service animal can tell you that it definitely gives them a reason to live again,” Tellefsen said.
The Patriot Riders of America are raising money for Dogs2DoTags in this year's Hearts for Heroes ride during Walleye Weekend in Fond du Lac.
More information on Dogs2DogTags can be found on their website.