Puppies reporting for duty

(Photo: Gail Pennybacker)

According to the Defense Department, more than 45,000 men and women serving in Iraq and Afghanistan are coming home as war wounded.

That's why a group in Montgomery County created a program to provide service dogs for local vets at no cost to the vets.

Jennifer Lund started Hero-Dogs Inc., the professional dog trainer leads a grassroots, non-profit effort based in Brookeville, Md. It’s an army of donated dogs and volunteer puppy raisers.

“A service dog could really help a lot of these men and women who are coming back with terrible injuries,” says Lund.

The dogs are all puppies with patriotic names. “Scotty” is short for Francis Scott Key. Another is named General Eisenhower. All are taken home by regular pet owners like Maria Malagon, who trained Lady Liberty, who turns on and off lights and can pull a suitcase.

“She will be an amazing companion,” Malagon said. “She will change somebody's life!”

During 500 hours of basic training the pups learn to open doors, retrieve phones and remote controls. They can even pick up something as tiny as a dime.

Hero dogs, Inc. hasn't placed any of their animals just yet. They're reviewing applications, candidates for animal that could help a wounded warrior like Staff Sergeant Eugene Simpson.

An explosion in Iraq stole the use of Simpson's legs. He says a hero-dog would be a huge help.

“I’ve seen the dog actually pull the wheelchair from the floor,” he says. “So if I fell on the floor he could pull my wheel chair to me.“

The puppy raisers are inspired to serve those who served, to give these soldiers independence and freedom to live a normal life.

Until then, this corps of canines will be in boot camp.