WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Justin Verlander and Kate Upton combined two passions, creating the perfect marriage to help veterans suffering from PTSD.
Their program is named Adopt. Rescue. Heal. It trains rescue dogs to become service dogs, then places them with veterans, aiding with the transition to civilian life.
"We're so excited to finally pair these dogs with their veterans," said the Houston Astros pitcher. "I think we all can agree that animals are so healing — at least in our family they are. I think it's such a great opportunity to help these veterans heal through animals."
The first four veterans will receive their dogs, all mixed breeds, this week. The Astros honored the men and their dogs before Wednesday's spring training game against the New York Yankees.
For Coy Webb, who served two naval tour on the USS John F. Kennedy in the Persian Gulf, the occasion marked his public debut with new companion Emily.
"I'm taken aback," Webb said. "It amazes me that there are still people out there that really care about the vets today in this world, with all the things that are going on. It just is real heartwarming. Emily is a lifesaver, a godsend. She's going to help me so much."
Verlander and Upton married in November of 2017. Adopt. Rescue. Heal. is a combination of sorts between their two philanthropic efforts, Upton's Grand Slam Adoption pet rescue charity and Verlander's Wins for Warriors foundation aiding veterans.
"I think dogs are so healing and through some of the stuff that we've done and helping empower veterans coming back dealing with PTSD, these service animals really were something that popped up as something that helps these men and women a lot," Verlander said.
Ernie Rivera, an army veteran who returned from Iraq suffering from PTSD, put the canines through a four-month training program as part of his Valor Medical Service Dogs program located outside of Orlando.
The dogs were rescued from the Houston ASPCA. Rivera personally selected both the dogs and the recipients.
The four dogs represent the program's inaugural class.
"These veterans here didn't pay a dime for any of this," said Rivera, accompanied by his service dog Xander. "With the partnership that we have now we'll be able to help a lot more."
Papa John's Houston, one of the program's sponsors, paid to fly the Houston-area veterans to West Palm Beach for a weeklong training session with their new dogs.
"This is what it's all about, being able to help veterans and see the smiles on their faces and make their transition back into life easier," Verlander said.