Local organization pairs dogs with veterans

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) – The number of suicides by veterans is at a tragic level, but a brand new local organization has a goal: Get that number down to zero.

Hampton Roads Hounds for Heroes is a new organization that pairs dogs with veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or other psychiatric illnesses.

With 30 years in veterinary medicine and behavioral studies, Linda McAbee says she knows how special dogs are. “The theory is that some dogs are just really super intuitive and they can sense, like, when a panic attack is coming on. They can sense when you’re anxious about something. If you’re feeling anxiety about someone they can, like, get in front of you and block that person. The one I have at home right now is really good at sensing nightmares and when you’re really, super distressed. He can sense it minutes before your meltdown which is super cool,” says Linda.

So, Linda founded Hampton Roads Hounds for Heroes. The question is, can these dogs really help?

“I would say it’s pretty much saved my life,” says E5 Joshua Brown.

Joshua served two tours in Iraq. When he got home, life just wasn’t right.

“I just had, you know, really bad nightmares. Couldn’t sleep. I’d get maybe two hours of sleep since 2005. To be able to deal with crowds and stuff, I would pretty much drink as much as I could so I could be able to handle being around people.”

He says his troubles changed when he got a service dog.

“She knows how to alert when I’m about to have an anxiety attack. She does her blocking moves like she’s supposed to. You know, she gives me that peace of mind that if someone’s walking up behind me, she’ll tug on the leash or whatnot. Whenever I’m about to have an anxiety attack, what she does is she’ll either one, start acting up, which people think she’s acting up, but she’s really just trying to say ‘Hey, focus on me.’ or two, if I’m sitting down she’ll jump up on my lap. She’ll start licking my face or just start, you know, playing around with me so then I’m like, ‘Oh okay’ and I focus on her and I lose all thoughts of everything else that’s going on and it calms me down.”

Josh lives with this service dog success and that’s why he teamed up with Hounds for Heroes. There’s another thing that makes this organization even more special, which is what caught the attention of Tami Sahlberg.

Tami’s husband, HT1 Michael Sahlberg, suffered from PTSD after two deployments in Iraq.

Tami says she learned from her husband, “When you’re deployed you can’t wait to get home. When you get home you can’t wait to deploy again because you don’t really fit in.”

One day, HT1 Sahlberg’s PTSD became too much for him to bear.

“My husband, Michael Sahlberg, passed away July 4, 2014 due to suicide. My husband was one of four in his unit, his squadron, to commit suicide.”

About a year later Tami got a phone call from Linda, talking about her organization and one dog in particular.

He is Hounds for Heroes’ first dog.

“Each dog is named after a veteran that has lost their battle to PTSD,” says Linda.

The question is, would Tami allow the dog, a dog being trained to protect and serve suffering service members, to have the honor of being named “Mike” after her husband? Tami said yes.

“My husband was one of the most loyal, giving individuals that I’ve ever met and anybody that knew him would say the same. When he passed away he was a donor and he’s saved many lives that way and I think that this, this kind of would never die. It’s legendary, gives him a legacy, and so it means the world to us. It really does,” says Tami.

What Hounds for Heroes really needs now is you. It needs foster families and a building where the dogs can train.

“My goal was to get at least 24 dogs kind of moving and grooving through the program to get them out in the hands of veterans because there’s a two-year wait for most veterans for a dog,” says Linda.

To donate, you can go to the Hampton Roads Hounds for Heroes Go Fund Me Page.

To learn more about the organization, becoming a foster family, or helping facilitate a building, click here.

Check out the Hampton Roads Hounds for Heroes Facebook Page

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