One dog changes the lives of two war veterans

Justin Lansford, Gabe, Spenser Milo, and Good Morning America’s Lara Spencer. (Photo credit: ABC News/Good Morning America)

While veteran Justin Lansford of Silver Spring, Md., served as a paratrooper in Afghanistan, he was struck by an improvised explosive device (IED) and lost his leg as a result.

“We struck an IED and it flipped my truck completely,” Lansford tells ABC News. “I had bilaterally severed femurs which resulted in the amputation of my left leg.”

As Lansford recuperated at the Walter Reade National Military Medical Center, he got a visit from the Warrior Canine Connection (WCC), an organization that pairs wounded veterans with trained service dogs.

It was through WCC that Lansford first met Gabe, the 2-year-old Golden Retriever who has aided Lansford as his service dog for the past five months.

“He helps me with one thing to the next. I can use him as a stable surface to lean on, as I get to and from the ground,” Lansford says of Gabe. “If I fall, he’ll come up running next to me and I can use him to push off of the get up off the ground.”

Gabe has provided both guidance and friendship as Lansford becomes more mobile.

“The less I use my wheelchair, the more I need his help in smaller tasks and the more he is there,” Lansford tells ABC News of Gabe. “It has been very comforting to know that.”

It seems that Gabe was always destined to work with wounded warriors. Before he began his life with Justin Lansford, Gabe was helping U.S. Army veteran and Colorado Springs, Colo., resident Spencer Milo, who suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

“I was on a dismount patrol on the Afghanistan/Pakistan border. I see a kid, you know 15-years-old, a suicide bomber. You knew what it was,” Milo recalls. “I just remember a big, loud noise, a big flash. And I remember landing.”

Milo survived the blast, but wasn’t left unscathed. He says he could hardly get through his normal daily activities sometimes.

“It was really hard to go back into public without being so on edge that it made others uncomfortable. I’d sweat profusely and I’d be incredibly grumpy,” says Milo.

Milo’s doctors suggested he work with the Warrior Canine Connection to help train and socialize one of their new puppies — Gabe. The experience with Gabe changed the trajectory of Milo’s life.

“And once I started working with Gabe, I started feeling like myself again,” Milo explains. “My family, my wife started seeing me again, and that’s incredible. You can’t put that into words.”

After Gabe’s training period with Milo, Milo had to say goodbye and hadn’t seen Gabe since. But recently, Milo traveled all the way to Silver Spring for a happy reunion, and to meet the veteran who is benefitting from all of Milo’s hard work — Justin Lansford.

“I owe everything to Gabe,” says Milo. “I would jump in front of a bus for Gabe, and I know he would do the same for me. And I know he’d do the same for Justin.”

Lansford says he was equally excited to meet the man who helped make Gabe such a great service dog and friend.

“I have really had a chance to say thank you to Spencer for working with Gabe and getting Gabe to a point where he could work and help me. Being able to see Spencer face to face has been awesome,” says Lansford.

WCC is hoping to make experiences like the one with Lansford, Milo, and Gabe a regular part of caring for our nation’s veterans. The organization is using the latest science and research to prove that working with dogs helps veterans with PTSD and traumatic brain injuries. For more information on WCC, their amazing work, or their dogs, check out the Warrior Canine Connection website.

Sources: ABC News, Warrior Canine Connection Facebook