There are heroes among us and in all different forms. To Fredericksburg, Virginia Marine Veteran, Jason Haag, his hero is his dog, Axel. But this relationship is not one-sided.
Axel is up for a big honor, to be named the National Hero Dog of the Year. Here’s their story.
This is how Captain Jason Haag’s days start now: with his best friend, Axel. “Good boy,” says Jason, coaching Axel. Haag is a veteran who served 3 tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. He was honored with multiple awards, including the Purple Heart. “I was wounded in 2003 and in 2008 in Fallujah,” remembers Jason. “I was near a couple of I.E.D.’s, suffered a traumatic brain injury as well.” But his toughest battle was yet to come. “I came home and basically just shut myself off.”
Jason was diagnosed with PTSD. He had flashbacks and blackouts. Like many veterans, he went to the VA for help. “I said that I needed help, they looked me dead in the face and said, ‘we don’t have any appointments, come back later,'” remembers Jason.
He didn’t walk out empty handed, though. Jason was given prescriptions to deal with the physical and emotional pain. At one point he was on 32 medications; 12 of them were narcotics. “I could walk into any clinic I wanted to and just tell them I was in pain, and they would give me a handful of pills, that’s how easy it was. Honestly, I can tell you I was snorting them up my nose and drinking heavily. I wasn’t suicidal, I wasn’t saying I had a gun to my head or anything, but I didn’t care whether I woke up or not.” He was also living in his basement and rarely left the house. Jason’s wife and their three children reached a breaking point, after 15 years of marriage, something had to give. “I would throw my wife out of bed, hell, I even choked her in my sleep for goodness sakes. I don’t think I had seen my kids smile in like, two years. My wife was like, ‘you’ve got to find something to get over this.'”
He found that something on a trip to the mailbox when he ran into his neighbor, who also suffers from PTSD and, his service dog. “I said like three words to him: I was like does this work? He simply said, ‘yes.'”
It was Jason’s last chance at survival: He called K9’s for Warriors, and a few months later: “That’s when I met Axel.”
Jason got Axel on a Sunday, on Monday, he was running errands. The next week he went to his son’s baseball game, something he had not done and nearly two years…All thanks to his companion. “He was always there,” remembers Jason. “I could yell and scream at him, and then two minutes later he’s happy as a clam, wagging his tail. I think it was just the fact that he was there with me he didn’t judge.”
And for once, everything was alright…or at least he knew it was going to be.
But it wasn’t just Jason who needed saving, Axel was 1 week away from being put down. K9’s for Warriors uses rescue dogs to rescue people; and it works. “He can wake me up out of nightmares, take me out of flashbacks,” Jason.
Out of the 159 service dogs the program has given out they have a 100% suicide prevention success rate.
Jason needed to be saved, but so did Axel. It turns out, all they really needed was each other. “I think they definitely know that their purpose is to save us and our purpose was to save them.”
Now together, Jason and Axel have a renewed purpose. “I hope so. Unfortunately we probably hurt a lot of people when we were over there. But now, but I think it is our life work now to help as many people as we can,” says Jason. “Now it’s saving lives instead of taking them.”
Now it’s Jason’s turn to show his appreciation for Axel: he’s up for the American Humane’s ‘Hero Dog of the Year’ award. The award would mean a big donation to K9’s for Warriors, which would mean more trained dogs to save more veterans. “It would mean a lot. I mean, he is my hero,” says Jason. “I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for him. He saved my life, he saved my family’s life.”
“We will keep telling our story until we can’t tell it anymore, to help as many veterans as we can,” says Jason.
The first round of voting is open online now until May 15th, you can vote once a day: http://www.herodogawards.org/hda2015vote-axel#voteform
For more information about Jason and Axel, click here: https://www.facebook.com/JasonandAxel?_rdr
For more information about K9’s for Warriors, click here: http://www.k9sforwarriors.org/