Program using service dogs to help veterans adjust to life outside military

- Veterans who have experienced combat and other rigors of military service can find it difficult to return to civilian life. One group in Stone Mountain is helping veterans adjust through a program using service dogs. 

Blake Rashad is a veteran with a vision. He's turning a worn out building on Highway 78 near Stone Mountain into a service dog center for veterans. He trains dogs to take care of veterans. He’ll have veterans training the dogs too and says this is a way to help veterans struggling with Post Traumatic Stress disorder and other mental health and physical needs.

"Like anxiety," Rashad says."If anxiety gets really high, these dogs are trained push on you, if not climb up in your lap.”

His love for dogs began when he was a child. In the United States Army, he trained K9's for missions detecting bombs. Later, as an Atlanta police officer, he worked with a K9 section and trained dogs to detect explosives and drugs.

Rashad is gifted when it comes to the animals. Anybody who has ever been to a kennel knows how loud the collective barking can be. On a recent visit, FOX 5 watched as Rashad entered a noisy kennel. With one quick syllable that sounded like, “Owww!,” the dogs went silent. But, when it comes to being gifted, he says it’s the dogs that can calm anxiety, soften a tense argument and keep a veteran with nerve damage from falling down.

The building near Stone Road on Highway 78 needs work. Rashad sees interview rooms, training areas, a front office lobby and conference rooms. He and his wife started the Top Dogg K9 Foundation and this building will be its home…but, only with a lot of work. It needs paint, landscaping and a lot of elbow grease. He can’t do it all alone and when Home Depot found out about his foundation, they gathered Team Depot Volunteers and partnered up with their Celebration of Service program.

Recently, nearly fifty Home Depot associates rolled up their sleeves and volunteered time, equipment, products and skills to give the building a facelift.

Jason Patton is the Team Depot member leading the charge and talked about the members who volunteered their time.

“Just trying to help out,” said Patton. “Just to give back to these great (Veterans)…to this great foundation.”

Rashad says the Top Dogg K9 Foundation will be up and helping Veterans like himself soon. He is thankful for the outreach from Home Depot.

“This is their day off. They’re volunteering today. I’m humbled because I know how valuable my time is. So, just to see all these people here helping out is amazing.”                                                                                            

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