ST. LOUIS - An organization that turns shelter dogs into service dogs and pairs them with injured service members has relocated from California to south St. Louis. Dogs For Our Brave hosted a grand opening for its new training facility in Dogtown Thursday evening.
Andy Gladstein founded Dogs For Our Brave about three and a half years ago as a way to give back to the men and women who have served the country. He moved his organization from California to St. Louis to be more centrally located to help service members across the United States.
Dogs For Our Brave professionally trains rescued dogs to become service and companion dogs to veterans who have experienced debilitating injury or illness while serving the country.
"We only rescue dogs, so kind of 'save a dog, save a soldier,'" Gladstein said.
The group recently rescued Bob, an Anatolian Shepherd mix, from a kill shelter in Texas the day before he was scheduled to be euthanized. Bob will go through at least one year of training and will be trained specifically to meet the needs of the veteran he is paired with.
"If you're a double amputee and you're wheelchair bound, the dog has to be able to pull a wheelchair, pick up items, turn light switches on and off, open refrigerators doors, dial 9-1-1 if they need it," Gladstein said.
Dogs For Our Brave has matched 14 veterans with dogs so far.
Marine veteran Christopher Miller remembers the phone call he received letting him know he was chosen to receive his service dog, Zulu.
"Guess what, friend? You're getting a dog," Miller said. "Everything from that point changed."
After four years in the Marines, Miller's career was cut short when he fell 50 feet from a cliff and broke his back. Miller was temporarily paralyzed and had to use a wheelchair for nearly two years while he learned to walk again.
Zulu is trained to help Miller with stability and mobility. She wears a vest with a harness which he can use for balance and support.
Zulu also eases Miller's anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. She even wakes him up from bad dreams.
"My body temperature raises, she feels me breathing heavy, Zulu will come up and actually put her head underneath my chin and start moving me, start waking me up," Miller said.
In less than one year, Zulu has given Miller the confidence to live life again.
"I'm outside playing ball with my boys. I can go somewhere, here and there, and not worry about dropping because she'll pick it up in a second," said Miller. "She's there by my side every step."
Dogs For Our Brave spends between $10,000 and 15,000 training the dogs and then covers the cost of their care for life, including food, equipment, veterinary care, medication, and ongoing training.
Those interested in applying for a service dog should fill out an application online.
Eight to 10 dogs will be trained at the Dogtown location each year. With enough support, the organization hopes to open another training center nearby.