PORTLAND -- Memorial Day is a time to think about those who died in military service, but it's also a time to think about those military members who return home to fight their biggest battle, fitting back into society.
A Battle Ground woman and professional dog trainer, Shannon Walker comes from a military family and she believes dogs can help.
In 2013, when a returning veteran need to have his family Labrador trained to become his service dog, Walker realized that dogs could play a much big role in helping veterans re-assimilate into society. As she learned more about post traumatic stress, she turned her business into a non-profit.
Washington-based Northwest Battle Buddies was born.
One dogs she's trained, a chocolate lab named Ruger, has changed John Kaiser's life.
I was actually severely wounded in Iraq and the physical wounds were easier to deal with than the baggage I carried home, Kaiser said. The day I got him [Ruger] two months ago, I was able to put that down.
The retired army staff sergeant can now enjoy family vacations and everyday errands without panic.
We go through a grocery store and every aisle we come to, he looks down both ways and then looks back at me, so it's like, what do I have to worry about? Kaiser said.
Ruger is among dozens of shelter and donated breeder dogs trained to walk alongside vets when they come home. Not only are the dogs companions, they are trained to wake vets up from nightmares, act as a social barrier and help balance unsteady legs.
Walker said the act of caring for a dog also brings vets back into the world of taking responsibility for others.
A veteran, or anybody, will do for their dog, what they won't do for themselves, Walker said. They get up. They get out. They're responsible. They tap into those leadership skills. They learn to be a team again and lead their dog.
This Memorial Day weekend she launched an online donation campaign to train 15 dogs to help 15 more veterans who are learning to rely on this new type of battle buddy.
Northwest Battle Buddies is trying to raise $200,000 by July 21 to help pay to train those dogs on the website IndieGoGo. Walker said it costs an average of $13,000 to train one dog for months to be ready to qualify as a service dog. They are then placed with a veteran in the program, free of charge.