Service dogs healing those who served

Paws & Badges is a local non-profit providing free PTSD service dogs and more to veterans.
Knoxville Non-profit helping people struggling with PTSD with one furry friend at a time.
Published: May. 30, 2023 at 6:50 PM EDT
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - Mike Bartleson worked for the Knox County Sheriff’s office for 18 years. After a few tough situations on the job, he was diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder or PTSD.

“I always wanted to be a cop to make a difference. I’m not a cop anymore, I’m retired but I still feel like I have that advantage of being an officer of helping others,” said Bartleson.

After retiring, Bartleson said he was in a dark place and did not know how to get out, that’s where his narcotics K-9 Unit dog saved his life.

“I saw Bodie but in his eyes, I saw god,” he said.

This led him to start Paws and Badges, which is a 501(C)3 Non-profit that rescues dogs from local animal shelters and matches them to a veteran, first responder or civilian struggling with PTSD like Bartleson was and continues to.

“We go and we get good temperament dogs that are kind of low and relaxed that need rescued so we’re kind of saving a dog and then turning around and that dog is saving a human being’s life,” said Bartleson.

He said service dogs usually take six to eight months to train and cost around $30-$80,000. So far Paws and Badges graduated five classes of 35 service dogs and handlers for free of charge.

“They put in the work every Thursday night and we take the dogs and train them and have them ready. We teach the recipients how to train a service dog so they have that knowledge for the rest of their life,” he said.

To become a recipient you apply, fill out an 18-page application and then meet one on one to see if you fit. Then the dog, which could be any size, color or breed chooses you.

“That is the best way we know right off the bat that we have a connection, that we have a bond so when they get together they have time to bond for three to four months before they start the program,” said Bartleson.

Paws and Badges relies solely on donations and volunteers to be operational. Bartleson said there weren’t many places to go to get help with PTSD so, he wants people to know he and a furry friend are there to help.

“The biggest medication is 130 pounds full of fur and has four paws that you can’t get at CVS or Walgreens,” he said.

Paws and Badges is expanding soon to a larger building and desperately needs volunteers for ground work and construction. If you want to help out with the dogs or doing dirt work to prepare for a future building you can go to this link.