NORTHERN VIRGINIA (WDVM) — On average, 20 veterans commit suicide per day. Former military service member David Pineda says he was experiencing these thoughts himself after serving in Iraq and responding to the 9/11 attack twenty years ago.
“The biggest downfall for a veteran becomes, ‘What does it matter? If I wasn’t here anymore, nobody would notice,'” said Pineda, pointing down at a yellow lab at his feet. “Whereas with him, I can’t take two steps without him noticing.”
The veteran experienced depression and anxiety after serving and beginning a career in law enforcement. His therapist recommended a service dog — and that’s when he met Legend.
“Having that dependency of somebody needing you creates that bond again especially for a veteran of like, ‘Hey, I’m still of use, somebody actually needs me,'” said Pineda.
The pair met through MK9s Service Dogs, an organization started by northern Virginia resident, Michele Khol. She would spend her nights as a nurse at Reston Hospital Center, and her days training the companions.
“I come from a military family,” said Khol. “We saw that there was a need in our local community for more service dog organizations to work specifically with veterans with various disabilities.”
Through MK9s, veterans are paired with a puppy that best suits their needs.
“We know what their disabilities and what their requirements are, so when we’re out looking for our puppies, we have that particular veteran in mind,” she said.
Dogs start working with their veterans as young as 8 weeks old , forming an unbreakable bond that, as Pineda says, if full of unconditional love, patience and understanding.
“I constantly feel like I am letting him down,” said Pineda. “Thankfully, he is very energetic, rambunctious, and forgives a lot.”
Although the road isn’t always easy, Legend stays by Pineda’s side throughout his mental health journey every step of the way.
“If he could understand me, I would say sorry,” said Pineda. “Don’t give up on me yet, because I’m trying.”
MK9s Service Dogs is always looking for volunteers to help train their dogs to serve veterans in the DMV area, and in turn, reduce the number of 20 suicides per day, one service puppy at a time.