“It’s a lifesaver.” That’s how one veteran in KELOLAND describes his relationship with his service dog. 

From fetching a bottle of water, to picking up a dropped wallet, the animal you’re about to meet is pretty special. 

“I needed someone with me at all times, to tell you the truth,” Brown said. That’s exactly what Charlie the dog is here to do.  

This four-legged pal is Dusty Brown’s service dog. 

The Vietnam War veteran and his companion have been together for about six months now. 

Brown has been diagnosed with PTSD. Now, Charlie is helping him cut down on the stress in life. 

“I have anger issues. Plus, when you go some place, I’m a people watcher. I just have to watch people and have someone watching my back and he is awesome as far as picking up movement. When he sees something he bumps into me,” Veteran Dusty Brown said.

While Charlie seems to be settling into the role just fine now, his future wasn’t always so clear.  Charlie used to live at the Sioux Falls Area Humane Society.
“It makes perfect sense that if a shelter dog can be trained to be a good pet, why not take it to the next level,” Big Paws Canine Foundation Director of Operations Gail Dickerson said.

Gail Dickerson is the Director of Operations of the Midwest Region of Big Paws Canine Foundation in Sioux Falls, which trains and provides service and companion dogs for veterans with disabilities and former first responders injured in the line of duty.

She estimates about 80-percent of dogs that have been in the program have been shelter or rescue dogs at some point. 

“I look for certain qualities in a dog. If the dog seems to be a little less phased by the activity and barking going on in the kennel environment, then that’s a good sign,” Dickerson said.

Shelter dog Bruce Lee made the cut. 

Melissa Tripp, a service dog trainer in training, is preparing him to become a service dog for a veteran living in Lead.

Already, Bruce Lee is making progress. 

“On the first day, he practically pulled me in the door and now he’s actually letting me train him. So we’ve come a long way and I’m super pumped to see how he’s going to change the life of his handler,” Trainee Melissa Tripp said.

Tripp became inspired to become a trainer after a shelter dog-turned-service animal helped her husband who’s a veteran. 

“If we can help save a life, while saving someone else’s life that’s amazing. It goes full circle,” Tripp said.

Seeing these once homeless dogs change the lives of others comes as no surprise to Sioux Falls Area Humane Society Executive Director Kori Baade.

“Shelter dogs can do anything. One of the coolest parts of working in a shelter is knowing these animals–each different animal that comes in here, regardless of how they got here, has something special about them,” Sioux Falls Area Humane Society Executive Director Kori Baade said.

Charlie’s specialty? Being the support system Brown needs. 
“He’s just there,” Brown said. 

Baade says shelter dogs have also become search and rescue dogs.