By JJ WOMACK
When Kelley Sue Williams of Woodstock, Ga., struggled to find a service dog for herself, the solution became the catalyst to help make a difference in so many lives. Somebody
suggested that Williams, who has spent most of her life training horses and dogs, as well as working as a veterinary technician, train her own service dog.
The typical wait time to get a service dog is typically at least two years and often a lot longer. This doesn’t take into account that most organizations only train dogs to help people with specific medical conditions, so some people with multiple health problems don’t even qualify to be put on the wait list.
After Williams met her husband, Gil Williams, and they both talked to several local veterans, they realized that disabled veterans faced these same issues, even after sacrificing so much for our country. That led to the creation of Healing Paws for Heroes
about two years ago.
Healing Paws for Heroes puts disabled veterans at the front of the list and works to custom train dogs to meet the needs of each individual veteran. Almost all their dogs come from
shelters and owner surrenders, so both the veterans and dogs get a second chance at life. They never charge the veterans for the dogs or the time they put into the care and training of the dogs, so they rely heavily on donations and volunteers.
“We always need volunteers whether it’s somebody to help care for the dogs or to work
fundraising events,” Kelley Sue Williams said.
In the last year, the organization has really taken off. They’ve received requests anywhere from veterans at Kennesaw State University to veterans in Washington.
In October, Healing Paws for Heroes placed one of their dogs with a “Wounded Warrior” in Iowa. Staff Sgt. Kent Savage got a traumatic brain injury while serving in Afghanistan. He also has post-traumatic stress disorder. While in Georgia to train with his new
service dog, Healing Paws for Heroes took Savage and his wife on training outings to Kennesaw State University’s Museum of History and Holocaust Education and on a behind-the-scenes tour of the Georgia Aquarium. The difference this organization makes in many people’s lives is probably best summed up by Savage’s wife.
“For the first time in years, Kent went shopping with me and made it through the whole store. That has not happened in over seven years. I really literally cried. It is a simple
thing to most people but not so much for Kent,” Angie Savage said.