BOZEMAN — If there’s one thing Montana native DeeDee Baker knows, it’s how tough life after war can be for some military veterans.
Her husband deals with PTSD after serving 21 years with the Montana National Guard but noticed there was a sense of relief whenever he was with his dog.
“I brought it to his attention and said I don’t think you realize what this dog is doing for you, and the conversation led more down the road of it would be really cool if we helped other veterans, and what if we could save dogs and they could just go through training," DeeDee Baker explained.
That kitchen table conversation turned into what is now known as Dog Tag Buddies, which is a non-profit organization that pairs veterans living with hidden injuries and rescue dogs together.
That mission has since served 60 veterans across the state, and most recently a Bozeman local.
Fairway Independent Mortgage Corporation's Bozeman branch capped off Tuesday’s Montana Real Estate Summit by gifting 15-year military veteran Laura Alley a service dog named Frank, who was named after America’s last known World War I veteran Frank Buckles.
She’ll be working with trainers over the next 30-plus weeks.
“I’m getting as much training as the dog is, and we’re both rescues, so that worked," U.S. Marine Corps veteran Laura Alley chuckled.
“We want them to not feel isolated," Baker explained. "We wanted them to feel like they’re a part of something bigger, so coming to training once a week and working with their dog and then coming home and working with them the rest of the week. It gives them a new purpose. It’s giving them the opportunity to fulfill a mission that they didn’t know they were going to be fulfilling.”
Alley’s new companion Frank was gifted by Fairway’s branch sales manager Chris Opstedal who donated $10,000 to make Tuesday’s surprise a reality.
“It’s been a long trip, and I feel like I’m finally home," Alley tearfully said. "This is wonderful."
In addition to Laura’s new service dog, she was also given a $5,000 grant by the American Warrior Initiative to help with any expenses she may encounter while making weekly trips to Helena for service dog training.