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Veteran credits service dog with changing his life, now helps train dogs for others

Posted at 8:10 PM, Sep 28, 2022
and last updated 2023-04-14 11:02:14-04

SAN ANTONIO, Texas — Serving in the military can leave veterans with many invisible wounds.

For San Antonio resident and veteran Randy Butcher, those wounds led to a suicide attempt in 2009 and a rough few years to follow.

"I couldn't hold a job," Butcher told 25 News. "Just the stressful every day, I would have depression in the morning and not go to work."

Then in 2016 he found the organization K9s for Warriors.

"It was probably about midnight, I was watching late-night videos and came across videos of veterans receiving service dogs," he said. "It wasn't a K9's video so I just started researching a lot on YouTube and came across K9s for Warriors."

The group rescues dogs from local shelters and trains them as service dogs for veterans.

"They stand in front of the warrior so that way if somebody is approaching them, they have that barrier to comfort them," K9s' Procurement Management Katelyn Van Hofwegen said. "They will sit at their side and look behind them. We also learned over time as the dogs bond with the warriors they do pick up on the warriors behavior and what they struggle with."

For Randy Butcher, a big struggle was his nightmares. He was matched with his dog Ace in June of 2016 and almost immediately Ace knew how to help.

"He woke me up the first night. I remember waking up just feeling a dog licking my face," Butcher said. "He had jumped up on the bed and was waking me up from a nightmare. From that moment on I was like yeah, this is the right thing."

Butcher said Ace has helped him through many rough nights and even gave him a chance to have a "normal" life.

"Just a lot of opportunities opened up, you get your confidence back and feel normal," he said. "Normal for us, you feel normal."

Studies show as many as 20% of veterans deal with PTSD after leaving the military. It's just one of the many reasons they are at a higher risk for suicide.

According to the VA, 22 vets die each day from suicide and that number has been rising over the years. They estimate suicide took more than 14,000 vets from 2001 to 2020.

Butcher said getting Ace changed his life so much, he decided to apply as a trainer and help other veterans find service dogs as well.

"Since I got him, everything just turned around," he said. "My son made a comment that I got him in 2016 and I'm working for them now, it's like I came full circle is how he put it. And that's the way I believe it."

He encourages any veteran who is struggling right now to apply to K9s For Warriors and to be patient once they get accepted.

"Don't give up on the wait," he said. "If a veteran gets on the list, just stick to it. There were a couple of times I almost gave up and said no I'm not going to wait, but I'm so glad I did it."