ATLANTA — Fifteen veterans went home on Friday with their service dogs after a year of intensive training.
Many of the dogs were rescued from local shelters and selected specifically to work with combat-wounded veterans.
The dogs all stood proudly with their veterans up on that stage. They each got a diploma, a medal, and a promise of a new life together.
Before Sarge came in to his life, Antonio Merriweather-Craig said he felt hopeless.
"My PTSD just started enveloping me, controlling me," he said. "At the end of 2018, beginning of 2019, I laid in the bed for 3 months."
He had served in the US Army for 15 years, but when he came home, his wife saw him struggling with a sense of purpose.
"She came in one day," he said. "I'm lying in the bed, and she said, 'I'm getting you a dog!'"
His wife had found out about the Top Dogg K9 Foundation, a charity that trains service dogs specifically for veterans.
"They can go to movies, they can go to Walmart, these dogs help them through night terrors," said Blake Rashad, with Top Dogg. "So they can live their life again."
Rashad works one-on-one with the veterans and their dogs for a year to get them trained up.
"I'm not going to sell you a miracle story," Antonio said. "I didn't pop right out of it -- but slowly, but surely, he brought me out."
The veteran-service dog pairs were celebrated at the Home Depot Foundation's volunteer day honoring veterans on Friday.
Workers there built dog beds by hand for each of them.
These service dogs need a place to rest and recoup, so they can be the best service animals they can be to our veteran community.
"Here you go, get in your bed, get in your bed," Antonio said to his service dog, Sarge.
He said he doesn't know how much Sarge will actually rest.
"Sarge is not going to let you sit there. Sarge doesn't know sad. He knows you are sad," he said. "Or when you're anxious. And when he does, he'll do what he always does, and goes to grab one of his toys. And he'll plop it right in your face. Plop!"
Sarge's playful spirit helps with a scary statistic. Twenty-two veterans a day die by suicide in America. Without Sarge, Antonio said he worried that he could have joined that number.
"On the day I came in, it might have been 22 that day, but it was 21 because you saved my life," he said.
Top Dogg starts training their next cycle of veterans immediately.
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