'Saving two lives:' Local group rescues dogs, turn them into service pets for vets

PEACHTREE CITY, Ga. -- It’s well-known that man’s best friend can be the perfect companion, but for a particular group of dogs, they aren’t just pets, they’re helping to save veterans.

Healing 4 Heroes is a local organization that matches service members with rescue dogs. The dogs are trained to help their service members with any difficulties they may face because of their visible or invisible wounds of war.

Piper Hill founded the organization and is a veteran herself. When she returned home, she was suffering from a traumatic brain injury and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. To help overcome them, she started training her dog, Valentine, to perform tasks like reminding her to take medication.

Because of that, she says she is alive today.

“I know I'm here because of the dog,” Hill told 11Alive, “I know I am.”

Frustrated by the suffering she saw fellow service members going through, Hill was inspired to help.

“I thought, ‘I can’t fight their battles for them, but what I can do is give them a Valentine, and she can fight with them,’” she said.

While many service dogs are bred specifically for service, Healing 4 Heroes rescues their dogs. It’s one way that the organization is not just saving one life, “We’re saving two,” Hill said.  

Another aspect that sets Healing 4 Heroes apart is that they train with the individual veterans from the beginning to the end. All the dogs are taught the same basic commands, but the veterans are encouraged to think of specific tasks their dogs can learn to help them overcome their own unique challenges. The tasks range from more simple things like waking their veteran up from nightmares to far more complex tasks like alerting their veteran before they have an epileptic seizure.

PHOTOS | Local group matching vets with rescue service animals

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But that training comes at a cost. The organization depends on donations and receives no federal funding from the Department of Veterans Affairs. And at about $3,500 a dog, operating costs pile up quickly.

Right now, Healing 4 Heroes is only able to help about 30 service members a year. That means hundreds of veterans are left on the waiting list.

But the biggest blow to the group looms in November, when the organization will lose one of their biggest sponsors which provides hotel rooms and a location for their training camps.

Regardless, community members are determined to see Healing 4 Heroes succeed. 

The Combat Vets Motorcycle Association recently surprised Healing 4 Heroes with a $10,000 donation, and Commander of Georgia Chapter 25-3 Pat “Zip Tie” Ferrell presented Hill with the check.

“They (Healing 4 Heroes) help save the lives of our veterans who come back from war with difficulties, with issues,” Ferrell said. “We don’t often take care of them like we should, and that’s what Piper is doing.”

Despite the financial setbacks, Hill is determined to fight for America’s returning veterans and won’t be discouraged by the recent setbacks.

“They are some of the most unselfish, self-sacrificing individuals I have ever met.” Hill said.  

If anyone wants to help contribute to the Healing 4 Heroes organization, they can visit their website, or go through the mail at P.O. Box 2116 Peachtree City, GA 30269.

(© 2016 WXIA)


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