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Service dogs offer life-changing friendship to Mid-South veterans

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Mid-South veterans say service dogs are helping them overcome emotional stress and live normal lives.

At no cost, The Paul Oliver Foundation is providing the animals.

"We were founded in 2014," said co-founder Amanda Butler.

Butler named the nonprofit after her friend Paul Oliver who dealt with PTSD and a traumatic brain injury after serving in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"Paul was very generous. I think this is a very good way to honor his memory," said Butler.

Oliver died from complications in 2013.

"It's a little emotional. It's exciting. There's nothing like this around here," said Butler.

Mark Laub didn't doubt the change a service animal could bring.

"We got him about six months ago," he said, petting his dog Thorn.

Thorn is helping Laub overcome his biggest battle yet.

After 12 years of service, Laub came back to Memphis to his wife and kids. An adjustment harder than he imagined.

Each year, he said his PTSD got worse and his nightmares became more frequent.

"They centered around the couple months around the anniversary when two of my buddies were killed," he said.

Laub found out about The Paul Oliver Foundation. He and Thorn are the first team the foundation helped.

Their training started in August, and so far, Thorn knows to wake Laub during his nightmares.

"Apparently in the middle of the night I stopped breathing. I wasn't breathing. He jumped up and pounced on me. Then woke my wife up, and she was able to get me out of it," said Laub.

Jacque Boney is the trainer. He works with the duo at least once a week.

"The process itself starts out basic obedience a few months then advance a few months. The service dog work takes anywhere from four to eight months," he said.

Boney also helps four other vets through the nonprofit, like Quintus Price and his rescue dog Huck.

Eventually the dog will help Price with his emotional stress and physical disability.

"I blew out my kneecap in Iraq, and it was, long story short, bloody and painful," he said.

Price said in just two months, Huck makes him feel more comfortable in social situations.

"I'm not alone anymore. I got my buddy with me," he said with a big smile.

It takes a least a year to get the dogs where they need to be, and the training can be intensive and tiring.

The reward, though, is much more than the treats. The vets say it's helped them more than we'll ever know.

"Something that loves you unconditionally and is there to protect you. Having him is amazing," said Laub.

The VA doesn't offer service dogs until they find enough evidence to prove the animals help.

The Paul Oliver Foundation said each dog can cost from $11,000 to $20,000.

To find out more about the Paul Oliver Foundation or to help their efforts, go to http://www.thepauloliverfoundation.org or https://www.facebook.com/ThePaulOliverFoundation.