MENLO PARK — The black Labrador retriever knew something was wrong. He refused to leave the side of Sandro Navarro, repeatedly nuzzling the troubled man, trying to comfort him.
It was the anniversary of that terrible 2003 day in Iraq when Navarro was the first to arrive at a blast scene that killed two friends in his Army unit and severely wounded a third. Somehow, the dog named Jason realized he was distraught.
“It was like he was telling me, ‘I’m going to keep licking your face until you stop feeling down, and I going to make you smile by doing something goofy,’ ” said Navarro, 36.
Some of man’s best friends are playing an innovative role in the VA Palo Alto Men’s Trauma Recovery Program as four-legged therapy for veterans finding their way through the darkness of post-traumatic stress disorder, thanks to Paws for Purple Hearts. The dogs are so perceptive they even will awaken vets from nightmares.
But there’s also a dual purpose to the program. Some of the veterans who come to the VA’s Menlo Park campus from around the country for military-related PTSD treatment are helping train the canines to become service dogs for physically disabled vets.
“It’s a reward knowing where Jason will go because there are guys far worse off than I am,” said Navarro, a Southern California native who lives in Tennessee.
At a home in Modesto, a golden retriever named Venuto is an example of that reward. Veteran William Smith, who uses a wheelchair, said his service dog can pick up loose change and gives him a sense of security. And Smith is gratified knowing that Venuto helped 21 vets in the