James & Zena

Service dog lends helping paw to veteran

James is a husband, father, outdoorsman, and veteran who served 12 years in the U.S. Marine Corps and was injured during his fifth deployment, resulting in the loss of his right hand and blindness in his left eye. For the past 10 years, he has lived with traumatic brain injury and symptoms of PTSD, including anxiety disorder, and struggled to do things that require the use of two hands.

After learning about Freedom Service Dogs from a fellow veteran, James began to wonder whether a service dog could help him perform daily tasks and relieve his anxiety and PTSD symptoms. He applied to FSD in 2021 and was matched with a yellow Labrador retriever named Zena in 2022. They attended a two-week placement class at FSD’s training facility to bond with each other and learn how to work together to bring James greater independence and happiness.

“Zena was very attentive and hardworking from the first day we met,” recalls James. “And placement class was an amazing experience. To watch Zena and the other dogs follow commands and bond with me and the other veterans was so cool. It was just the right amount of training and knowledge to get the teams working together.”

Since graduating in June, Zena has been helping James remain active and independent by opening doors, carrying things for him, retrieving dropped items, and helping tug off his long-sleeved shirts and jackets. She also will accompany him in his work as a ski patrol member in the winter and at a fly-fishing shop in the summer.

In addition to helping with daily tasks, Zena serves as a constant, confidence-building companion for James. “Zena is awesome. She is there for me when my stress and anxiety get to be too much,” he says. “I now have a companion that goes everywhere I go.”

James has some words of encouragement for veterans who may be considering getting their own service dog. “Whether you think you need one or not, Freedom Service Dogs is a great place to start, and they will always be there to assist veterans with a service dog, if it is the right fit.”

To learn more about applying for a Freedom Service Dog, click HERE.

Contact Erin Conley at econley@freedomservicedogs.org for all media inquiries.