Dog Tag Buddies saves dogs and veterans
September 20th, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed a bipartisan resolution marking that day as National Service Dog Day in honor of service dogs across the country.
Yellowstone Public Radio’s Orlinda Worthington introduces us to a Montana program rescuing both shelter dogs… and veterans.
Zulu is a two and half year old German Shepherd. She was paired two years ago with disabled Army Veteran Hollie Koenigsberg through Dog Tag Buddies, a non-profit that partners veterans with hidden injuries and rescue dogs.
“In the late summer of 2021, I had a surgery, it was the same time that we withdrew from Afghanistan and sitting by myself with my thoughts took me to a dark place that I hadn't been to in a really long time. And I have PTSD and I thought that I was doing fine. I realized that I probably needed more help than I thought I did,” Koenigsberg said.
In 2022, Montana saw a spike in veteran suicides, according to the Montana Department of Veterans Affairs. Helping diminish the rate of veteran suicide and mental health issues is the mission of Dog Tag Buddies. It was founded by DeeDe Baker and her veteran husband, after he returned home with a head injury and PTSD.
“He experienced a lot of IED explosions,” Baker shared.
She watched his anxiety lesson and anger dissipate when he laid on the floor with their family dogs.
“It was something so profound that I just didn’t understand until I started getting into this and once we did we realized that there was a bigger need.”
So, they took on learning how to train service dogs for veterans with hidden injuries. Dog Tag Buddies now has dog trainers in seven cities across the state.
“We spend hundreds and hundreds of hours training these dogs and not only are they trained in their obedience skills, they are trained to specifically mitigate the signs and symptoms of the disabilities of the specific individual,” Baker said.
For Hollie, Zulu is that companion.
“With anxiety, she's trained to notice those symptoms and she bops me with her nose on my leg just so that I remember to be like, Oh, wait a minute, something's going on that I'm not aware of,” Koenigsberg said.
Zuu has stayed quite by Hollie’s side during this interview, until now, enjoying a well deserved treat.
<nats dog chewing>
“I never understood how important a team was for me and with her I’m team again,”Koenigsberg added.
In Billings, I’m Orlinda Worthington
To date, Dog Tag Buddies has served 112 veterans and rescued 72 shelter dogs. All services are free of charge to veterans.
Dog Tag Buddies is holding their second celebrity chef fundraiser September 30th in Billings.
More information can be found at www.dogtagbuddies.org