FREDERICKSBURG, Va. (WJLA) - A nonprofit is unleashing man's best friend in hopes of saving lives. K9s for Warriors brings calming canines into the homes of our nation's heroes who are battling Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
"Without him, I wouldn't be sitting here," said Captain Jason Haag of his dog Axel. "I would be dead."
Axel pawed his way into Haag's life when the Fredericksburg father of three had just about given up on it.
"He hit the reset button for me," said Haag of his German Shepherd.
Axel was a gift from the non-profit K9s for Warriors. He was trained to be a service dog. In a way, the two saved each other.
"Axel was a week away from being put down when they rescued him," explained Haag.
The pair now share an unbreakable bond.
"He is completely dependent on me and I am completely dependent on him," admitted Haag. "If I don't get up every morning for him, he's not going to take food for anybody else," he continued. "He's not going to go out to the bathroom for anybody else."
The partnership has helped the veteran who served three tours of duty with the Marines push past the pain that comes with war.
"I have six initials tattooed on my arm that are close friends that I've lost," he said.
Haag joined the marines in 1999 and left for Iraq in 2003. Injuries forced him into retirement a decade later. As soon as he came home, the nightmares began. He'd re-live his toughest times in combat.
"The worst ones were when we were taking the lives of them," he admitted.
PTSD nearly destroyed him. "I was on 32 different prescriptions for depression, anxiety, pain."
The Purple Heart recipient says he was holed up in his home abusing drugs and alcohol and too afraid to enjoy life again until Axel showed him how.
"I don't think I'll ever be cured of PTSD, but he has mitigated the symptoms for me so that I'm able to function in society at least to a point that I'm not frightened anymore," said Haag.
K9s for Warriors has matched 117 of our nation's heroes with service dogs and that's just the beginning of their work. For more information, visit their website.