Service dogs helping veterans battle addictions, PTSD

Nonprofit hopes to expand to train more dogs

BANDERA, Texas – Brice Cavanaugh has over two decades of experience training dogs for the military and dogs for use as average pets. A veteran with 11 years of service in the Marines, Brice is now using his training skills to help fellow service members who are facing personal battles as a result of what they ever faced overseas.

He relocated his nonprofit Operation Overwatch to Bandera and joined forces with Warriors Heart  that recently relocated to the Hill Country. Warriors Heart opened a 40-bed inpatient treatment center for veterans as well as first responders dealing with addiction or other issues, such as post-traumatic stress disorder.

“What we wanted to do was create an environment where they could heal with dignity and respect among their peers, where they understand the trials of being on the front lines day in and day out,” said Josh Lannon, founder and CEO of Warriors Heart.

Lannon calls their partnership a one-of-a-kind approach to inpatient treatment, pairing participants with therapy dogs.

“The dog is not the solution to solving a person’s problem but it is definitely part of the solution for some people,” said Cavanaugh. “Depending on what they’re working on, whether it be addiction or PTSD, there’s accountability the dogs help them with. There’s responsibility, being responsible for another living creature.”

“There’s a bond that’s made with the service dogs and the warrior so it becomes their battle buddy,” added Lannon. “When they complete the program, they can take that battle buddy home with them as a support group, as a grounding mechanism, to help them with their struggles.”

Retired Marine Cpl. Elliott served in Iraq in 2003 and soon left the service. He’s battled with addiction and PTSD for over a decade and was hesitant at first to come to Warriors Heart for treatment. But once he arrived, he found Ace, a four-legged partner in his recovery.

“I saw the energy and that was what really drew me to him,” said Elliott. “Someone to get out of the house with and go work with and train. I need that discipline in my life still and the boundaries to feel safe when I’m out and about. He’s a high-energy dog and he needs to be taken care of and maintained and there’s still principles in my life I need to be held accountable for and fine-tune.”

Cavanaugh hopes to eventually grow Operation Overwatch to other locations, to train between 750 and 900 dogs annually. Training can take as little as six weeks or as long as eight months for more specific service dog training.

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