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Dog helps soldier deal with combat-related stress
The 8-month-old pointer came from the Hall shelter
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Mike Smith plays with his dog Kami that was adopted through the Hounds4Heroes program. - photo by Tom Reed

Kami, an 8-month-old pointer from the Hall County Animal Shelter, has found a new home while bringing joy to a Forsyth County veteran and his family.

The dog "has stepped into our life to not only help me but help my family, to help my relationship with my family, and how I approach things," said Kami's new owner, Mike Smith.

Kami and the Smith family, who live off Dawsonville Highway a few miles from Hall, were matched up through Hounds4Heroes, a nonprofit organization that pairs up homeless animals with veterans suffering from emotional effects sustained during active duty.

Smith said he has displayed the classic symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, including edginess and anger issues. He hasn't gotten an official diagnosis but is under a doctor's care.

The 25-year-old Georgia native entered the Army National Guard in 2006, while living in Michigan. He was deployed to Iraq for a year, starting at the end of 2007.

Smith served with a personal security detachment, helping provide transportation protection for civilians.

"We took a lot of mortar fire inside of our camp," he said.

He also worked as a chaplain assistant, seeing many wounded soldiers and officers "as they were dying," Smith said. "You walk in (a room) and see half a colonel's head blown off. Those are images you just can't rid of, for the rest of your life."

After deployment, Smith returned to Georgia to visit family. He met his future wife, Casey, and decided to stay in Georgia. They got married and have since had a son, Jayden, 1.

He now belongs to Gainesville-based Charlie Company, which is part of the 48th Infantry Brigade.

A few months ago, Smith was reading a story in Time magazine about a man with PTSD adopting an animal and Hounds4Heroes was mentioned.

He contacted the North Carolina-based organization, which jumped into searching for a dog that would match Smith's interests.

Kami, meanwhile, had a loving home with a soldier, who placed the dog with a friend while he was deployed. The soldier was later redeployed, but this time no friends were willing to take Kami and the dog ended up at the animal shelter on Barber Road, according to Hounds4Heroes.

After sitting in the shelter for about a month, Kami was about to be euthanized. Some volunteers placed her picture on a Facebook page in a last-ditch effort to get her adopted.

Jennifer Bennett, Hounds4Heroes' executive director, saw Kami's picture on Facebook, just after hearing from Smith.

"Even though Kami's original owner didn't intend to reclaim her, I just couldn't bear the thought of him coming back and finding out that his dog had been euthanized," she said.

"When I called Mike about Kami, he got so excited. They bonded immediately. They really are saving each other."

When Smith received an e-mail from Bennett with Kami's picture, "I knew right then that was the dog," he said.

Smith picked up Kami from the shelter on Saturday. The organization paid for Kami's adoption, shots and training.

He said he has noticed instant change and "it really feels good."

"The past few days, I've learned to pick my battles — when to actually put a lot into something and when to relax," he said. "... Life is really too short to be angry, upset and worried about things."

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