IRVING, Texas — Canine Companions for Independence in Irving is hoping to change the lives of veterans with PTSD by pairing dogs with veterans who need them.

"We've seen an increased need, especially with our veteran population. A lot of them are coming back having PTSD and it's just to help mitigate those symptoms," said Erin Christensen, the lead trainer for the program. "I want them to be able to do simple life tasks that all of us take for granted."

Statistically, upward of 20 percent of veterans who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom have PTSD and about 12 percent of Gulf War veterans also suffer from PTSD. 

The last known study from the late 1980s, connected 15 percent of veterans to PTSD although it is believed 30 percent of Vietnam veterans have have struggled with the illness in their lifetime.

"They are more than just dogs," Christensen said. "These guys have gone through an extensive breeding program of our organization and they've gone through a year and a half of puppy raisers who do all of their basic obedience and socializing. Then they come to get that more specialized training."

For the PTSD program, dogs are trained in various tasks like turning lights on, retrieving items, giving their handler a sense of safety in public and helping with flashbacks. 

Christensen said training these dogs gives her a sense of pride in knowing she is making a difference.

"I think these dogs are unique," she said. "They allow veterans to start going out in public again. It allows them to feel more safe at home. It makes them feel like someone has their back, has their side."

For more information on the program and to apply for a PTSD dog, you can visit their website. CCI said they expect to graduate their first class of dogs in the beginning of next year.

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