Illinois veterans discuss the impact of service dogs

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ROCKFORD, Ill. (WIFR) -- While many are honoring the former President George H. W. Bush's life, his service dog also seems to be deeply impacted by the loss.

"I don't think there's anybody in America that saw that and didn't get a little teary," said LCC Kare 9 Military Ministry Coordinator Jim Morrison.

Lutheran Catholic Charities is explaining how important service dogs are to the veterans they serve.

A picture showing former President George H. W. Bush's service dog, Sully, sitting by his casket, pulled on the heartstrings of many.

"They have a sense. They've been born with this sense that we don't have, and they exercise it tremendously, said Morrison.

Submarine veteran Weisbecker understands that connection.

While he doesn't have a service dog, he and comfort dog, Brutus, travel all around the region to help people cope with stressful situations.

"He comforts me, and then we go and bring comfort to many, many other people," said Veteran Handler Gene Weisbecker.

"We have seen it in many different places that we've gone. You meet these pretty battle-hardened veterans, and they just turn to, like little children when they get to be with a dog."

These canines are carefully chosen to fill their roles.

"It takes a special kind of dog and it takes time. We get them when they're about 8 weeks old, just puppies, and we begin training them," said Morrison.

Morrison says there's a national shortage of these special animals.

"There just aren't enough of them, and the VA can't provide them quickly enough because they do take training and time."

While time-consuming, Morisson says that service dogs often become life-long companions.

"It's like you saw with Sully. That dog is his dog, and it will be forever."

There are about 22 million veterans in the United States. VA members say they are in constant need of donations and help toward their effort to provide service dogs to as many veterans as possible.