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Milwaukee area non-profit connects man's best friend with veterans to help them heal post-service

Posted at 6:21 PM, Aug 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-20 19:21:55-04

OCONOMOWOC — At one point in time, they put their lives on the line to protect us. And now that they're home, local veterans are turning to some four-legged friends for help.

"You feel like you have a brother, you have a sister, you have a battle buddy again like you did in the service," said Lee Otto.

Serving nearly nine years in the army wasn't always easy for medically retired veteran Lee Otto.

"I dealt with a lot of things in the military with PTSD, TBI, and dealing with a lot of anxiety and things like that," said Otto.

After his therapist suggested he look into getting a service dog, Otto came across Sierra Delta, a Wisconsin non-profit that pairs veterans with dogs to help them heal. And that's when he was united with his now best friend: a 2-year-old chocolate lab named Sage, who goes everywhere with him, from church to shopping.

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"He's there and I'm able to just shift my focus from all the crowds and anxiety to my dog," said Otto.

Marine corps veteran BJ Ganem created Sierra Delta in 2017 after realizing how much a dog could help in the healing process for veterans post-service.

"It's just a real great way to satisfy the needs of all vets, no matter what their injuries were, no matter where they served," said Ganem.

Veteran Kim Michalowski knows first-hand just how much dogs can help a person after serving as a dog handler in Vietnam.

"Having something to take care of other than myself, I think, was one of the things that helped to get me through the year," said Michalowski.

Sierra Delta paired him with a German Shepherd named Brandy, who helps him get through issues like loud noises and fireworks.

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"There were loud booms and I went into a little panic attack. It still bothers me, and she came right to me," said Michalowski.

These veterans add that coming home after serving can often be hard.

"Being in a dark place is really tough to get out of. Sometimes you don't want to talk and that's where just taking your dog out on a walk, taking him to the lake, and just using that as therapy is what's awesome," said Otto.

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