Javascript is not enabled.

Javascript must be enabled to use this site. Please enable Javascript in your browser and try again.

Skip to content
Content starts here


Leaving Website

You are now leaving and going to a website that is not operated by AARP. A different privacy policy and terms of service will apply.

MY HERO: How Rescue Dog Blaze Saved This Warrior’s Life

Veteran’s life spiraled after TBIs in Iraq and Afghanistan. Then he turned to a canine.

spinner image a man walking his dog
Adam Werner walks Blaze.
Courtesy K9s for Warriors

Ask Adam Werner what it’s like to hit an improvised explosive device (IED) in an armored vehicle, and he’ll tell you it’s like being kicked in the chest by a mule and deafened by the sound of a train wreck.

spinner image people hold up a welcome home sign as someone from the military stands before an american flag. the words aarp veteran report appear above the flag
Getty Images/AARP

You can subscribe here to AARP Veteran Report, a free e-newsletter published every two weeks. If you have feedback or a story idea then please contact us here.

Serving with the U.S. Army in Iraq and Afghanistan, he would stand in the back hatch of a Stryker armored vehicle, manning a Squad Automatic Weapon (SAW). On at least five occasions during three years of combat duty, his Stryker rolled over a pressure-plate IED — which sometimes blew the wheels off.

Like a pro football player who takes a serious hit, then stands up and shakes it off, Werner figured it was just part of being a soldier. He would refuse medical attention and “soldier on” rather than leaving his unit a man short.

After a while, he noticed changes. He began forgetting things and developed a strong sensitivity to sunlight. He had debilitating migraines and would lose his peripheral vision. Eventually, he was forced to take medical retirement as a staff sergeant, and he was diagnosed with traumatic brain injuries — TBIs — likely the result of the blasts.      

spinner image Image Alt Attribute

AARP Membership— $12 for your first year when you sign up for Automatic Renewal

Get instant access to members-only products and hundreds of discounts, a free second membership, and a subscription to AARP the Magazine.

Join Now

What followed was a downward spiral of depression, excruciating pain and short-term memory loss that turned his whole world upside down.

He had tried pretty much everything to get his life back on track when he heard about a program for vets called K9s for Warriors that pairs veterans who have TBIs with service dogs. Despite his initial skepticism, Werner decided to give it a shot.

“They sent me a few videos, and I was also able to talk to a few people who had been through the program,” Werner, 41, told AARP Veteran Report. “I thought it might work, and at that point, I was willing to try anything.”

After a yearlong application process, the father of four was paired with a black-and-tan hound dog called Blaze. It wasn’t just the start of a beautiful relationship but of deep healing that has brought about a life-changing shift for Werner.

spinner image a man serving in the military in a desert
Adam Werner during his service.
Courtesy K9s for Warriors

“What he really does is he slows me down,” Werner explained. “Because I can go all over the place, and most of the time, it’s in circles. But with him, I can relax. It’s strange to talk about, but you’ve got to live it to really understand it.”

Blaze seems to sense when Werner’s anxiety or migraines are coming on and will snuggle and ask to be petted, which relaxes the Army veteran.

Simply stroking an animal can lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol and increase levels of oxytocin — the same hormone that bonds mothers to babies.

The majority of K9s for Warriors service dogs are rescued from shelters before being trained to become helpers for veterans, who provide them with a purpose and a loving home. There is a sense that the healing is mutual as both animal and veteran benefit from what the other can give.

Before taking their animal home, veterans spend a month living on a private campus with the trainers and the dogs, learning about handling and developing a bond.

See more Health & Wellness offers >

The nonprofit foundation is funded entirely by volunteers and donations. It was started in 2011 by Shari Duval, the mother of a police bomb K9 handler who returned home from Iraq with post-traumatic stress disorder and found that being with his dog helped him keep his condition under control.

Duval died at 75 in 2021, and her legacy is an organization that has rescued more than 1,500 dogs and paired nearly 800 of them with veterans. Dogs that don’t become service dogs are adopted as family pets.

Blaze was sponsored by Jeff Peterson, a volunteer who walked the Appalachian Trail — all 2,190 miles of it — to raise money. Peterson and Werner met at an emotional ceremony in 2018 when K9s for Warriors officially handed Blaze over to Warner. 

“I told one of my trainers that Blaze was my hero, and the trainer said that’s exactly what he’s supposed to be,” said Werner, who lives in Kentucky. “He makes me feel alive and vibrant again. He just made me feel wanted again.”

K9s For Warriors is a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. There are many ways to support K9s For Warriors, including donations and volunteering. Click here to find out how to support those who have served. To apply for a service dog, click here. From there, the Warrior Operations team will contact and assist you through the application process.

You can subscribe here to AARP Veteran Report, a free e-newsletter published every two weeks. If you have feedback or a story idea then please contact us here.

Do you have a veteran hero whose story might be a MY HERO story in AARP Veteran Report? If so, please contact our editors here.

Discover AARP Members Only Access

Join AARP to Continue

Already a Member?