FORT BRAGG, N.C. - All of the dogs inside the Fort Bragg Animal Control Facility and Adoption Center were barking with excitement, March 25, all except for Tank, a pit bull mix.
He calmly watched and wagged his tail as Robert Misseri, president of Guardians of Rescue, a nonprofit animal rescue organization, came over and petted him through the fence of Tank's pen.
Jeff Hust, the center's assistant manager, brought over a leash and let Tank out so Misseri could meet him properly.
This began a new journey for Tank and nine other canines that are slated to become companions for wounded warriors and veterans suffering from post traumatic stress disorder through the Guardians of Rescue's Paws of War program. The New York-based organization has already made friends in the area. Before the dogs leave for New York for training and eventual placement with a veteran, Fayetteville Animal Protection Society will help get them ready for the trip.
"We will get them vetted, neutered and spayed so they can get their health certificates to travel up to New York so Guardians of Rescue can place them," said Cassie Peterson, director of FAPS. The local organization is Cumberland County's only no-kill shelter. Fort Bragg is the first installation of many to have their control facility emptied of canines by the organization, said John Walis, Guardians of Rescue program veterans manager.
"One of the reasons we chose Fort Bragg was it's a very large post," he said. Walis, who was deployed from Fort Bragg during Operation Iraqi Freedom, also suffers from PTSD and credits his dog, Tommy for helping him heal. "I have a cabinet full of medication that they give me every month to sleep, to feel better. (Since) having that dog, the medication sits in my cabinet. I don't take half of it. That's just how much that dog has done for me," he said. Kenneth Chambers, another veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, also talked about the power of puppy healing. "I had an five-year old Australian shepherd/blue heeler mix that came into my life and now she saved my life in a way no doctor, no medication or any of my friends or Family could do. For what that little four-pawed baby did for me, I'm very proud to get all these babies out of here today," said Chambers. In August 2012 in Jacksonville, Fla., Chambers' dog, Adalida, was stolen. He credits Guardians of Rescue as being there for him as he continues to search for his companion.
"I got in touch with Robert about a month after this happened with her being taken. They've been as kind as can be since then," said Chambers. Hust said he hopes Guardians of Rescue visit Fort Bragg every month. The adoption center can house 18 dogs and 25 cats at a time and gets from 1,500 to more than 2,000 dogs a year, said Hust. Anyone who can gain access to Fort Bragg can adopt a pet, he added. Guardians of Rescue will make sure veterans will not have to worry about food or medical bills for the animal.
"We don't just turn a dog over to them and say, "Good luck." We follow through; we stay on top of it. We make sure for ourselves that the dogs are in healthy conditions always. John and his team will make sure that these animals are working right for these Soldiers," said Misseri. For Misseri, this is an opportunity for him to give back to Soldiers, especially ones who are suffering from the visible and invisible wounds of war. "For Soldiers to have the ability to wake up and have his face licked by a dog is what's going to save him from every single day of those moments. There's nothing like a dog licking your face, no therapy can ever replicate that," said Misseri.