HOUSTON -- Justin Masters has a special friend who he says will never leave his side.
“Just having him next to me lightens my spirit,” said Masters, a former Marine who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
His companion is a 3-year-old American Pit Bull named Pancake, who’s training to become a service dog for vets with Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), like Masters.
“I can’t help what is going on through my mind,” said Masters. “I went through all of this and now I have to live with it for the rest of my life.”
Master’s wife fostered Pancake, who was found abandoned after being stolen from a shelter in Montgomery County. Then she and her husband founded Operation Pits Healing Heroes.
"We want other vets to know that there's always hope,” said Lauren Masters. “There are always avenues and different methods of coping and healing."
It takes a master trainer an average of six to nine months to get a dog and veteran to work together well. It's been about 10 weeks for Justin and Pancake.
"We call it the art of praise,” said trainer Dean Miller. “It requires them to socialize with that dog and be something that they haven't been."
In a way, both Justin and Pancake are trailblazers. One of them is a war hero struggling to adjust, and the other is an ambassador for an often misunderstood breed of dog.
"He found me and that's pretty much where it all began, with him just saying I'll help you through these times," said Masters.
This isn’t the first group to train pit bulls to become service dogs for vets. Another organization in Chicago has been doing similar work for years, but Operation Pits Healing Heroes is the only group to attempt this in the state of Texas.