Savannah Young / American Humane Communications
Sitting in an overcrowded shelter in Georgia, abandoned by all the humans she had known and with less than 48 hours until her scheduled euthanasia date, boxer and pit bull mix Sobee needed a miracle.
Half a country away, in Holts Summit, MO, U.S. Navy veteran Jason Howe was struggling with his return home from two combat deployments. PTSD left him fighting with depression and anxiety, especially in public spaces. To cope, he turned to alcohol and drugs, which only led him down deeper, darker paths. It was there, at the apex of these two stories, that Sobee and Howe found one another.
Sobee was pulled back from the brink by K9s on the Front Line, a Maine-based nonprofit that is dedicated to providing trained, certified service dogs to veterans in need. In 2016, the nonprofit paired Sobee with Howe, who had heard about the program from a high school friend. The bond formed between dog and veteran was powerful and immediate.
"Sobee helps me wake up with a sense of purpose," Howe tells Daily Paws. "Whenever I'm starting to have an anxiety attack, she's right there, putting her face up to mine, saying 'Hey. I've got you.'"
Sobee's training, catered to Howe's needs, focuses on his anxiety. At home, she's a steady, calming presence who is trained to detect signs of an attack and mitigate them. In public, she's an alert partner, giving Howe a companion and quite literally watching his back.
"I really don't like it when people approach me from behind," Howe explains. "So when someone walks up behind me, she won't bark, but she'll kind of back up against me and get between us."
Sobee has made Howe such a believer in K9s on the Front Lines' mission that he's joined the ranks, becoming the nonprofit's point person in the Midwest. And Howe is not the kind of person who does things half-heartedly. In the three years since he's been training dogs, Howe's branch has paired 100 veterans with service dogs and was named Best Non-Profit Organization in both 2020 and 2021 by MissouriMagazines.com, among other prestigious community awards.
Now, Sobee and Howe are finalists in American Humane's annual Hero Dog Awards, a program designed to spotlight the powerful, lasting impact these animals have on the humans and world around them. And when it comes to Sobee's impact, Howe has zero reservations.
"If it weren't for Sobee, we wouldn't be talking right now," he says. "She might have been two days away from death, but she's the one who saved me."