On Tuesday, Nov. 27 in Winebrenner Theological Seminary’s TLB Auditorium, the University of Findlay’s Wellness Program will host a free, public screening of “A New Leash on Life: The K9s for Warriors Story,” a documentary that details Cpt. Louis Belluomini’s challenges and how he has worked to overcome them. Co-starring in the documentary is his service dog, Star, acquired through the K9s for Warriors organization. Also featured in the film are U.S. military veterans Adam LeGrand and Shilo Schluterman, and their K9s for Warriors service dogs.
Belluomini will be available for media interviews at 6 p.m., will speak at 6:30 p.m., and the documentary will begin at 7 p.m.
Directed by Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Nick Nanton, and produced by DNA Films, “A New Leash on Life” has been nominated for a Suncoast Regional Emmy Award for best documentary.
The screening is also a fundraising effort for the Florida-based K9s for Warriors. Belluomini is hoping to raise $15,000 to sponsor a dog. If the goal is reached, the community will have the honor of naming and following a dog through his or her journey along with the veteran to whom he or she is assigned.
Belluomini, a paramedic who works for Hanco E.M.S. in Findlay and Putnam County E.M.S., said Star has been instrumental in alleviating his Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptoms. Often characterized as an “invisible disease,” PTSD can affect people who have experienced a traumatic event; combat veterans are particularly susceptible to developing the disorder. Star lays on top of Belluomini at night if she thinks he’s about to sleep walk, she paws at his head to wake him up from nightmares, nudges him out of bed in the morning, and she was sensitive enough to detect his wife’s first labor contractions.
Before acquiring Star, Belluomini would find himself waking up with a pistol in his hand. There were other issues too, but he didn’t initially seek help for his Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) because he didn’t want to lose his top military clearance status. Then, his wife got pregnant, and everything changed.
“We were really concerned about what we were going to do, because medically, nothing was working,” said Belluomini, a U.S. Army combat veteran who served in Iraq with military police units that trained Iraqi police forces, and on detainee air transport assignments; and who worked at a military prison in Afghanistan. Going from a war zone in which he slept with an assault rifle with rounds at the ready to the bright lights and silence of home “was very, very hard,” he said. “I thought I was the only one dealing with this stuff,” he admitted.
Now, Belluomini said he tries to be a role model for other PTSD sufferers.
K9s for Warriors was begun by Shari Duval, a mother who was seeking ways to help her son transition to life back in the states after serving two tours in Iraq as a privately contracted bomb dog handler for the U.S. Army.
“After two years of research on canine assistance for PTSD we decided the best way we could help these deserving warriors was to start a nonprofit organization to train and give service canines to assist our warriors’ efforts to return to civilian life with dignity and independence,” Duval explains on the charity’s website.
Shelter dogs are selected for the program, which serves post 9/11 U.S. military veterans. Because of their specialized training and in-demand services, there is a one-year waiting list for veterans to receive dogs. Matches are made based on individual needs and personalities. Veterans must travel to one of two training locations in Northeast Florida where, for three weeks, they learn how to use the service dog they’ve been paired with to live independently. The program is free for veterans.
K9s for Warriors is also involved in vital, ongoing research regarding service dogs and their effect on military veterans. For instance, the organization teamed up with Purdue University on the first study that shows veterans may benefit physiologically from having service dogs.