ROCKWALL, Texas — Retired U.S. Army Ranger Aaron Mixel is standing on the side of a road in Rockwall; it's something he says he couldn't do two years ago.
"You look around most streets and you see debris on the sides and the work cones, and these are things
they've put IEDs in," he said.
Mixel served in the military for 20 years. He enlisted in his home state of California at the age of 17. In 2009, he was in Afghanistan when an IED exploded right next to him. He was only partially blocked by the Humvee he was standing next to at the time. He suffered brain damage, lost his right eye and his arm was torn up by the shrapnel.
Mixel described the moment he talked with his son, also an active duty solider, from his hospital bed.
"He kind of looked at me and said, 'Dad, don't you think it's time to retire?'" Mixel said. "And I said, 'Yeah, I do.'"
His eyers are still sensitive to light. Years later, back in Texas, his mind was still back in Afghanistan. At his wife's suggestion, he looked into Patriot Paws.
"It took me three-and-a-half hours to drive here because cars and things on the side of the road blow up in the countries where we come from," he said of his drive to the non-profit in Rockwall.
Mixel was eventually introduced to a service dog named Chief.
"You really focus on the dog and not what's going on around you," he said.
"I wouldn't know the science behind it and I don't know the training behind it," he continued. "I just know that when the dog sat in my lap I didn't notice what was going on around me."
The dogs are effective in recognizing the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in their owners and there are many veterans waiting on one of their own.
Terry Stringer, of Patriot Paws, says there are currently 130 veterans on their waitlist, which translates to a a three to five-year waiting list.
Stringer showed us two puppies at the beginning of their training.
"I cannot tell you 100 percent that either one of those puppies will make it a as a service dog," Stringer said.
"Our rate is 58 percent, which is higher than the national average."
They hope a development will help increase those numbers. The non-profit's Rockwall headquarters is currently undergoing a $2 million expansion that broke ground this year.
This fall, they hope they'll be able to add 16 dogs to their roster.