AUBURN, AL (WTVM) - A combat hero and veteran of three wars hopes to overcome his struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder, with the help of man's best friend.
One of life's greatest blessings is the love of a good dog. Lee Blackwell believes the bond he's developing with his Labrador, Aubie, can help him overcome the horrors of war.
"I have been blessed to deploy with some phenomenal men and women," Blackwell said. "There are things that happened that have been significant and made a big impact on my life that I struggle with daily."
The retired Air Force Master Sergeant is also a war hero. A veteran of Desert Storm, Afghanistan and Iraq, Blackwell struggles daily with PTSD.
On Friday, Jan. 9, Blackwell and Aubie graduated from iK9, the East Alabama company that works with Auburn University to breed and train the world's finest working dogs for military defense and law enforcement handlers.
"In personal times of torment or struggle, just to sit with a dog who doesn't ask for anything who doesn't need anything just simply loves you, good bad or indifferent," said iK9 Founder and President Tim Dunnigan. "When you are in that moment it's very real, just for pets. So imagine having a skill set for special service dogs to help all veterans who don't have a dog for comfort."
When iK9 learned Blackwell was interested in adopting a dog, the team thought Aubie would be a good fit. The company's "I'm a Hero Too" foundation took care of the rest.
"Procuring a dog and training can costs thousands and thousands of dollars and no way would we think about charging that for a vet, so we raised those funds," said Dunnigan.
When Blackwell and Aubie met this month for training, their bond was instant. Aubie will perform tasks to ease Blackwell's anxiety.
"I can tell her to sweep and she will check my house for intruders. She can block, I have a hard time in big crowds and she protects me when people get too close," Blackwell said.
"It's forever, it's without question, there is no pretense about it," Dunnigan said. "That dog will now live life for him and her days are to make sure is okay, and that is beautiful for anyone who struggles with anything...But especially with the struggles of war."
Her devotion and sweet spirit seems to be the best therapy for Blackwell when he struggles to sleep.
"She was checking on me I was checking on her and we did that the majority of the night," explained Blackwell. "She is very relaxing and very calming, she just helps me."
This is the first service dog iK9 was able to provide to a veteran free of charge through their nonprofit. The company hopes this is the first of many dogs that will help veterans and their families.
As for Blackwell and Aubie, they are heading back to Texas and we wish them the best.