LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — For Mila Leonard, the moments when veterans connect with their service dogs make it all worth it.
“You bring a dog into someone’s life and you see that connection. To me, it like recharges me. It’s the best feeling in the world," said Leonard.
A certified dog trainer, Leonard has been training dogs for veterans for the past 10 years. In 2012, she founded RWB Dog Tags, a nonprofit that pairs wounded warriors with service dogs. The dogs are rescued and she says, many times the veterans are too.
“The big thing is that they have someone that gives them unconditional love because when you’re going through something and people don’t get it and not having someone get it is a real deal breaker, you know mentally. So you have a dog that’s going to give you unconditional love, doesn’t care what you’re going through and you know that something’s living, waiting for you, expecting you to come home or expecting you to wake up in the morning," said Leonard.
Leonard says with her organization, it’s not just about creating lifetime bonds between veterans and their dogs. It’s also about creating opportunities for veterans to connect with each other.
“You see these same vets that didn’t even want to come out of the house the year before and they’re not only doing that but they’re talking to new vets that we’re bringing into the program. They’re like, ‘hey, I was there a year ago. Don’t worry about it.' They become like that peer support," said Leonard.
Peer support something Army veteran Kerry McCrobie says he’s lacked since returning to civilian life in 2005.
“I no longer have a social life. I won’t have any friends that I hold close, for fear of losing them. I’ve gone to treatment. I’m working on it," said McCrobie, who did tours in post 9/11 Iraq and Afghanistan.
Although the service dogs are provided to the veterans free of cost, keeping the nonprofit up and running has always been a challenge for Leonard.
“When I first started doing this, I was working two jobs. That’s how I paid for the gear and the food and everything and we would get donations so I learned how to work on a budget," said Leonard.
Mila says at times she’s sold her own belongings to keep the organization afloat. She’s determined to keep providing this service to veterans -- that’s why her friend Sue nominated her for our 13 Days and Knights of Giving.
Leonard is a recipient in our 13 Days and Knights of Giving, which is sponsored by the Vegas Golden Knights Foundation, America First Credit Union and Subaru of Las Vegas.