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Published July 28. 2014 04:00PM

We've heard the stories or read articles about how animals can help military veterans living with combat-related post- traumatic stress disorder adjust back into civilian life and lead a more productive life.

The Service or Therapeutic Companion Dogs, most of which are rescued from local shelters, are the most common. The veteran and dog train together to build a trusting relationship, thus helping to save two lives at once.

In this region, Marywood University in Scranton designed a program to provide companion dogs to veterans suffering from PTSD. Called Tails for Troops, the program initially rescues dogs, then provides the dogs with professional training to be companions to veterans.

Last year, Times News reporter Amy Miller did a moving story on the death of Gabe, a 10-year-old yellow Labrador who touched the lives of many people, most especially his best friend, Army Sgt. 1st Class Charles "Chuck" Shuck, a native of Lansford who was residing in Columbia, South Carolina when Gabe succumbed to cancer and failing health.

Two years ago Gov. Tom Corbett signed House Bill 165 which protects the animals by law. The legislation imposes a criminal penalty upon the owner or co-owner of a dog that kills, maims or disfigures a service dog without provocation. Violators can be fined of up to $5,000 and held liable for the veterinary or replacement costs of the service dog.

Although dogs are the most popular for behavioral training to help veterans, other pets can make excellent companions. In the case of Army veteran Darin Welker of West Lafayette, Ohio, 14 pet ducks have helped build up his self-esteem.

A disturbing part of this story is that officials in the village of West Lafayette told him to get rid of the ducks, then citing him for a minor misdemeanor in June for failing to comply. The 14 ducks live in a penned-in area in Welker's backyard, which also has kiddie pools so they can swim.

Welker said he came home from Iraq in 2005 with a major back injury that required surgery in 2012. The Department of Veterans Affairs paid for the back surgery but not for counseling or physical therapy recommended by his surgeon.

Welker, 36, says the ducks help him deal with depression and PTSD. They keep him motivated and also help him to relax and provide comfort. In presenting his case next month, he will present a letter from the VA's mental health department recommending he be allowed to keep the ducks.

Since Walker's story went national, he's received support from around the country. The mayor and the town's administration offices have been inundated with calls.

Clearly, the Iraq War veteran has a lot more friends these days than the pet ducks that have provided him with companionship.

By Jim Zbick

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