Paws and Stripes

Veterans give shelter dogs a home and in return receive a new leash on life.

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Sarge, Catahoula Leopard Dog mix and Jim StanekIn 2009, when Jim Stanek returned badly wounded and traumatized from his third Army tour of duty in Iraq, he and his wife Lindsey had to confront a cold, hard truth: Some wounds can’t be healed. “There’s no cure for post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury,” Lindsey says. “These are injuries you have to learn to live with.”

To help manage this monumental task, the couple turned to Sarge. Lindsey had adopted the young female Catahoula Leopard Dog mix during Jim's nine-month recovery in the hospital, intending to have her trained as his service dog. But obtaining a service dog trainer they could afford was no easy matter.

Realizing other veterans would encounter the same difficulties, the Staneks decided to found their own organization, Paws and Stripes, to provide trained service dogs for veterans grappling with PTSD and TBI. The catch? Every Paws and Stripes dog must come from a shelter.

The organization works with local shelters and foster homes to help veterans find dogs . “No one breed is better than any other,” says Lindsey, now CEO of the Rio Rancho, N.M.-based nonprofit. “We look for dogs between the ages of 18 months and 3 years, and they need to be medium to large in size because of the tasks they’ll perform.”

Each dog is individually trained to meet the needs of a particular veteran. For example, an initial assessment of a veteran may show one person requires a medical alert canine, while another needs mobility assistance. “Since Jim has equilibrium problems, Sarge (now 3) is trained to walk beside him to provide support and help him get up and down,” Lindsey says. “In public, she gives Jim a buffer zone. If someone walks up, she stands between them so he has some space; she also watches his back to make sure no one startles him.”

Paws and Stripes pays the $2,000 it costs to cover training, and veterans work directly with trainers to school their own dogs — a strategy that offers important benefits. Not only does it reinforce their bond, but the veteran also gains skills for molding another service dog when his current helper retires. The training experience itself also has a therapeutic effect, Lindsey says. “We incorporate a modality founded by the Trauma Resource Institute, so we’re essentially working to help PTSD symptoms at the same time,” she notes. The Trauma Resource Institute, based in Santa Fe, N.M., is a nonprofit corporation that promotes innovative training models to heal individuals from the damage of traumatic experiences.

The culmination of this do-it-yourself training can be a beautiful thing to behold. “Jim and Sarge kind of have their own subtle language, and they both take care of each other,’’ Lindsey says. “Some days a service dog needs a service person, too! These dogs embody pure innocence and unconditional love, and that in itself is pretty powerful.”

To find out more about Paws and Stripes, visit

The rescue efforts of Paws and Stripes inspired, a website dedicated to providing nutritious food to shelter animals, to donate 5,000 meals of Halo Spot’s Stew to a shelter designated by Paws and Stripes.

See more dog adoption and rescue stories »

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Tracy   Carthage, Indiana

1/4/2015 2:16:37 PM

I have a three year old I think golden retriever mr. Bigs . His family moved and left him!:-( he is a great family dog who can be easily trained! Great with kids! I wish to find a wounded soldier who could use a great dog!

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Robert   Vancouver, International

12/11/2014 5:10:52 PM

How can a Canadian Vet get the walking leash that your company uses?

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Tim   Orange grove, Texas

11/16/2014 2:57:06 PM

My name is tim, I am watching dogs of war right know. I am a vet, I have a Aussie, she's my best friend. It's really cool, y'all are doing this for vets. I feel for mike, I lost some of my brothers. I love dogs ever scents I was a kid, dogs are healers, my kid helps me every day. Keep up the good work, thank you and your team

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Richard - 251   Studio City, CA

11/13/2014 3:41:28 PM

I feel that I must speak up here. First off, you Vets Rock.

I am a therapy dog handler/Trainer. I have 1 therapy dog (had 2), we have attempted to work with our local Veteran facilities and hospitals (a group of us) to take our Therapy dogs to visit our Vets at the different facilities in further assisting them with either emotional or physical problems. The handlers and our dogs are trained in therapy work, we have made presentations to our local VA facilities and they give us one reason or another as to why they will not permit us into the facilities to help our Vets. I’m talking about locations in the Los Angeles area and there are many facilities from So. Cal to No. Cal with groups that would love to go in and work with our

We need the support of the public to help get Therapy Handlers and the animals into our local VA facilities to help our Vets. The is NO charge for this work, it is our pleasure in giving something back to our Vets.

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