Iraq veteran receives service dog

wcrenshaw@macon.comNovember 10, 2012 

WARNER ROBINS -- A couple of months ago an injured, skin-and-bones dog now named Angel was found walking along a road in Hawkinsville.

Life has gotten a lot better for Angel since that day.

After being nursed back to health by Tracy Johnson, a Warner Robins resident, Angel is now in the hands of Bosnia and Iraq veteran Keith Parker, who has problems of his own. He hopes the two will find healing together.

As a result of a roadside bomb explosion in Iraq, Parker suffers from post traumatic stress disorder, hearing loss and short-term memory loss. The nonprofit group Healing4Heroes, which specializes in training rescued dogs to help veterans, has agreed to train Angel to be a service dog for Parker.

Parker, who lives in Zebulon, picked up Angel at Johnson’s house Saturday. He and his two sons had already met the dog to make sure they were all right for each other.

Parker recalled the first time he went to see Angel, he and his boys took her for a walk. He heard what sounded like gunfire, and that caused him to go into combat-solider alert, scooping his children up in his arms.

“She walked down right in front of me and started licking me in the face and nudging me,” he said. “I knew right then this was the dog for me.”

That’s exactly the kind of thing Angel, an American bulldog mix, will be trained to do. Parker has anxiety attacks around crowds of people, and Angel will be trained to recognize an attack. She will be able to either lead him away, comfort him, or nonaggressively acting as a blocker to keep people away.

He has hearing aids in both ears but he has to take them out at night, and can barely hear anything then. She will be able to alert him to any noises at night if his sons, one of whom is autistic, are up or there are any kinds of problems.

“This is a godsend,” he said.

Ashley Yarborough, a friend of Johnson’s, found Angel and Johnson agreed to take her in. She set up a Facebook page for Angel, and donors helped restore her health. Johnson had planned on keeping her, but while she found her to be a good-natured dog who loved children, Angel also was fond of climbing over the chain link fence that surrounded the yard.

Realizing she needed to be somewhere safer, Johnson offered her for adoption and Parker heard about it. He had already spoken with Healing4Hereos, which offered to train a dog for him, but he had to find the dog.

Angel met the group’s criteria, which included age. A veterinarian estimated she was 2 years old, perfect for training. She also had to be comfortable with being touched, and Johnson made sure of that.

Angel’s Facebook page, called A Dog Named Angel, will continue to be updated as she goes through training. Parker posted a picture on it late Saturday of Angel and his two boys at their home.

“I think our journey together is going to be good for her, me and my son,” he said.

To contact writer Wayne Crenshaw, call 245-9725.

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