LINWOOD — Patrick Carney is a 1998 Mainland Regional High School graduate, but he was honored recently at the Mustang Corral at a very different graduation.

Carney and his service dog Alpha recently graduated from the K9 Warriors program. With other K9 Warriors and their trainers, Carney and Alpha walked on the track to a huge banner in his honor and the cheers of the crowd and the Mainland cheerleaders prior to kickoff of a football game.

A Belgian Malinois, Alpha came to Carney through K9 Warriors from Georgia as a rescue dog. The outgoing president of K9 Warriors, Guy Ruiz of Galloway Township, explained that the dogs are matched up with a veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder to help them. Carney, a member of the Southern New Jersey Outreach Team, works for the Veterans Administration at the community-based outreach center on New Road in Northfield connecting veterans to the services they need and are entitled to.

Carney said he completed the level I training with Alpha in six months.

“He helps me in so many ways,” Carney said. “He has improved my quality of life as well as my family’s. As soon as the vest goes on in the morning Alpha is working and when the vest comes off, he is just part of our family.”

Carney and his wife and two boys live in Northfield.

Carney, who suffered a traumatic brain injury in Iraq suffers with bouts of PTSD.

“I finally realized after a couple of years that I needed a little extra help. Alpha provides that help. He helps me get out of the house in the morning and makes sure I do everything I need to do before we get out the door. He is hyper vigilant,” said Carney. “Part of the PTSD is in the person's mind, dealing with emotions. You are always on guard, always on edge. Alpha senses that and helps me to calm down.”

Carney is continuing on with the K9 Warriors program to the next level of training. That will teach the dog a trade, such as search and rescue or narcotic sniffing.

“Some of the people in the K9 Warrior program may not be able to serve in a combat unit, but they can still serve and help with their K9 partner,” according to Ruiz.

Carney will be taking a larger role in the K9 Warriors program and trying to connect combat veterans with a dog.

“The only requirements for the program is to be a combat veteran who is ready to put in the work to train the dog because the owner goes through the training with the dog,” added Carney.

For more information on the program, visit K9warriorsinc.org.

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