Lehigh Valley

Dog T.A.G.S. pairing service dogs with veterans to treat PTSD

Vets say dogs help transition to civilian life

​BATH, Pa. - For Marine Brian Duben and his dog Cali, you could say it's puppy love, but Cali is much more than just a pet, she's Duben's service dog and helps with his PTSD.

"The biggest thing is there's always somebody there, in the military you always have a team, you always have a partner," said Duben.

Duben says his transition from military to civilian life wasn't easy.

"A lot of anxiety in public, a lot of problems with personal relationships and trying to find your next mission and what you're supposed to do when you come back," said Duben.

But a few years ago he got connected with Les Houck and the Dog T.A.G.S. of the Lehigh Valley program where he and Cali worked every week with a trainer.

"They need to know there's an outlet where they can get some help," said Les Houck, Founder of Dog T.A.G.S. of the Lehigh Valley.

"The better that she got the more comfortable and competent I became, personally and professionally," said Duben.

Now, others are taking the same steps.

"This program has given me the strength to go outside again. I was afraid of crowds," said Army veteran Jarrod Clouse who joined the program a few months ago.

In war, vets hear explosions and have people sneak up behind them.  Through the Dog T.A.G.S program, these dogs are trained for that.  For instance, Cali will stand behind Duben, quite literally watching his back, and will nudge him when someone's coming from behind.

"They can also help with things like night terrors or flashbacks," said Jason Kamora, a volunteer counselor with the program.

In addition to pairing vets with dogs, Dog T.A.G.S. also includes a weekly group therapy session at Cole's K9 Center.  Kamora leads those peer-to-peer sessions.

"It really is about getting them to work together and build that bond as a group much like they did when they were serving," said Kamora.

And although Duben's days in the uniform are over, there are battles still being fought here at home but now he has a new dog in the fight.

Dog T.A.G.S. is free of cost for all veterans and for those who did not have a dog, the program provides the animals, pulling from local rescues.

For more information visit their website. They have locations in Bath and Mechanicsburg.  


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