Paws for Heroes is one of our most popular Affinity Partners here at Veteran Energy. And it’s easy to see why. Founded in 2013, this Houston-based group rescues homeless dogs and then trains them to serve as companions for veterans and military members coping with PTSD.
We always enjoy hearing about the many success stories at Paws for Heroes. And we were especially excited this week when we got a chance to talk firsthand with the group’s latest canine recipient, Houston veteran Angel Acatitlan.
Angel, 35, following what he calls a family tradition, served in the U.S. Army for five years. He served two tours in Iraq, helping to identify and gather information from suspected members of such groups as al-Qaida, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and various Shiite militias.
“We helped find the people that could be exploited for information,” he said.
During his second Iraq tour in 2009, an Iranian-made explosive device blew up and destroyed the vehicle he was traveling in. Angel made it out with his life, but the explosion left him with a traumatic brain injury (TBI) and PTSD.
“The funny thing is, the gentleman who tried to kill us, I had the opportunity to interrogate two days after the event,” he said.
“They thought we were the bad guys. After the interrogation, I stood up, and he thought I was going to hurt him. But I gave him a big hug,” Angel said, adding that he was able to convince the man that he’d been led astray, that U.S. soldiers weren’t his enemies.
Angel got out of the Army that same year and returned to Houston, his home town. Today, he has a wife and three daughters and works as a senior operations manager at a document company.
He’s been out of the Army for more than a decade now. But he’s still coping with the effects of PTSD, a condition that, among other things, he said caused him to gain weight.
“I went from being a stud—and I mean a stud—to getting up to 379 pounds. That’s just how it affected me. It made me attack the fridge,” he said with a laugh.
But not long ago, Angel decided he wanted to make a change. He knew he needed something to help him get out more and get active. He thought a companion animal might be a good fit for his life, and so he started looking at different organizations that train dogs for veterans.
“The one that stood out to me was Paws for Heroes,” he said, adding that he liked their mission, how they get funding and their standing in the community.
By mid-January, he was paired up with Metro, a white mixed-breed Labrador retriever male that was found abandoned—and wounded with a gunshot—at a Houston transit center metro.
Fully trained as a PTSD dog, the almost-2-year-old Metro has had a calming influence on Angel and those around him, he said. The veteran even takes him to work most days, and Metro’s been a huge hit with co-workers and with the Acatitlans.
“He’s been very kind and gentle with all of them.”
And Angel’s losing weight—more than 17 pounds already. He walks Metro several times a day on work breaks and at home. The two even recently finished their first 5K rucksack event (hiking with a weighted pack), he said.
“Since he’s been placed with us, he’s been nothing short of amazing.”
And Angel and Metro continue to work with Paws for Heroes, too. The group still offers weekly training for the veteran and his new companion.
“They’ve been very involved,” he said. “This, to me, has been the difference between them and the other organizations out there.”