Menlo Park non-profit training service dogs for veterans celebrates 2 year anniversary

MENLO PARK, Calif. (KTVU) - It's a program that's helping veterans heal by connecting them with service dogs. On Saturday, the program will celebrate two years of helping injured veterans.

A Labrador retriever named Luke is on a mission to become a service dog for a wounded warrior. His trainer Charles Cotton is a U.S. Navy veteran from San Francisco who served in the Vietnam War. Cotton is also recovering from substance abuse.

"In the little time I've known Luke," said Cotton. "Luke showed me more control than I've showed myself in a long time."

Cotton calls Luke his battle buddy and training the pooch is part of his therapy. It gives him purpose.

"They help other vets," said Cotton. "That means I'm helping another vet."

Luke is among six Labrador and golden retrievers at Menlo Park's Veteran Administration. The program is run through the nonprofit Warrior Canine Connection.

"As the wars wind down we have a number of veterans and active duty veterans coming home from deployment," said Cate Dorr of the Warrior Canine Connection. "What they need is support. When they are here in treatment this is a way to give them extra support."

The dogs learn up to 90 different commands in two years from tugging open the fridge door to get water, to turning off light switches and pulling a sock off someone's foot.

Michelle Lynch is another trainer. The U.S. Army specialist served in Afghanistan and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.

"It gives me a sense of worthiness," said Lynch. "I feel very worthy. It's just building me up."

On Saturday, Warrior Canine Connection celebrates its second anniversary in the Welcome Center at the VA Palo Alto Health System's Menlo Park campus.