Invictus Games: Behind every great serviceman or woman is a great service dog

ByThomas Neumann Via <a Href="" Title="espn" Class="espn_sc_byline">espn </a>
May 11, 2016, 1:34 PM

&#151; -- ORLANDO, Fla. -- Service dogs are becoming more and more common in daily life, but many of the ways in which they assist their masters still go largely unnoticed. These animals don't just help people who have visual or hearing impairments or mobility issues. They also aid those who experience seizures or deal with conditions such as diabetes, post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. A number of competitors at the 2016 Invictus Games rely on service dogs. Here are a few of their stories:

Brett Parks and Freedom

Parks is a retired U.S. Navy aircrewman who lost his lower right leg as a result of being shot while attempting to break up a robbery in Jacksonville, Florida. A therapist advised him to get a service dog to help deal with his post-traumatic stress disorder.

Parks had thought the animals were only for people who had been in combat situations, but he learned that service dogs can assist anyone who has experienced a traumatic event. He still wasn't sold, so the therapist explained that a dog could retrieve items such as a phone or keys and could help him get up if he fell.

Finally convinced, Parks put his name on a two-year waiting list to acquire a dog. After six months, he got a phone call. The conversation went something like this:

Hey, we've got a dog for you. We have an open spot. Are you interested?

Oh yeah, I'll take it.

Fast forward a few minutes:

By the way, what kind of dog is it?

Oh, it's a poodle.

It's a what?!

It's a poodle.

Waaaiiit a second. I have a reputation to uphold. I don't want to be walking around with a poodle.

Brett, he's a standard poodle. I want you to Google standard poodles and do some research on them.

Parks learned that standard poodles were originally bred as hunting dogs. They typically grow to weigh about 50 pounds, and they shed less than most breeds.

"I've been with him ever since, and he's just been great," says Parks, who readily admits that the dog, named Freedom, has improved his quality of life. "Now I'm spoiled. I don't want any dog other than poodles."

Freedom is a male, but he spent the first two years of his life at a women's prison. Parks later met two of the inmates who trained him, and they told him the experience made a difference in their lives. "It was very special to hear," Parks said. "Freedom is a life-changer."

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