Coming home: Nonprofit trains puppies to help soldiers returning from war

DEVENS, Mass. — A nonprofit is training puppies to help soldiers who are returning home from war with post-traumatic stress disorder.

The problem is that the demand is high and there isn't enough boarding room to train more puppies.

Clear Path for Veterans New England – a wellness-focused organization helping veterans -- is asking for people to help provide temporary foster homes while puppies are trained.

Fitch, a 10-month-old Labrador retriever, is training to become a service dog. Once certified, he'll pair up with a veteran who is having trouble adjusting to civilian life.

"They're basically trained as puppies and it can take 18 to 24 months to fully train a dog to be a service dog certified," said Ryan Burnett, the K9 program manager at Clear Path for Veterans New England.

He added that veterans are dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder and difficult situations in their past and present.

Clear Path is located in the basement of an old Army hospital in Devens, Massachusetts. The entire building is being renovated and once it’s complete next year, it will offer a variety of free services for veterans.

"Everything we do is tailored to a veteran's journey home," said vice president Donna Bulger.

She said the service dogs in the program will help veterans with their anxiety.

“That response for a veteran that's maybe been in isolation hasn't been able to go out in public, the service dog helps them do that,” Bulger said.

There are more than 30 veterans who are ready to receive a service dog, Burnett said, but Clear Path only has three dogs in training right now.

“We are in desperate need of foster homes, of good foster families to be able to foster these dogs and to work with our trainers,” he said.

Because even though Fitch is very well-behaved, the puppy in him still comes out.

He needs to be ready for any situation and Burnett said that’s why they don’t give untrained puppies to veterans with PTSD.

It could be up to another year before Fitch is certified and ready for action.

“Being that companion and that loving, trusting relationship that the veterans need,” Burnett said.

The more foster homes they get, the sooner they can start training more puppies.

To help get involved and foster a puppy, visit Clear Path's website.