Disabled Knoxville Air Force veteran receives service dog during unique ceremony

LOUDON (WATE) – You’ve heard the phrases “passing the buck” or “passing the torch,” but what about “passing of the leash?” It’s a unique ceremony involving a veteran and a service dog.

There was a roar in the room as SMSgt. Diana Trevino walked in, everyone inside the sanctuary at Tellico Village Community Church here for her and service dog Valor. The golden retriever greeted his trainers and then his leash was passed from volunteers of Smoky Mountain Service Dogs to SMSgt. Trevino.

“I knew that I needed help, emotional stability and physical stability,” she said.

“She’s got her battle buddy,” added Mike Kitchens with Smoky Mountain Service Dogs.

SMSgt. Diana Trevino and Valor
SMSgt. Diana Trevino and Valor

The disabled veteran enlisted in the Air Force at just 17 years old and ultimately served our country for 26 years. The last two years, Valor has been training to help her.

“The dog has probably 1,500 to 1,800 hours of training and when we present a dog like Valor to a veteran, it represents a community investment,” said Kitchens.

“He’s given me a foundation, a strength that’s intangible. There are no words to describe it,” added Trevino.

Valor, and other service dogs with the organization, are given to veterans free of charge. This golden retriever’s tasks are to provide balance, stability, and pick up anything that has been dropped.

“It’s not until we’ve grown in our relationship or team that I’ve begun to realize what he means to me,” added Trevino.

She says mornings are the hardest, but this entire experience has meant that her prayers have been answered.

“I hope I’m as much of a blessing to him, as he is to me,” she said.

Trevino is not only the 16th veteran, but she’s the first female veteran to receive a service dog with this organization.

If you’d like to donate or volunteer with Smoky Mountain Service Dogs, you can learn more by clicking here.

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