BAKERSFIELD, Calif. — Wednesday, 23ABC highlighted service dogs that are helping our heroes heal after their time in the service in light of Veterans Day.
23ABC News spoke to a local marine about his time in Iraq and how his service dog saved not one hero, but two.
Julio Torres is a Bakersfield native who served 11 years in the Marine Corps with two tours to Iraq. He said that he may not be here today without his service dog.
“I went into the Marines in Sept. 17, 2001,” Torres said.
Torres grew up along Cottonwood Road in Bakersfield. At 17 he joined the U.S. Marine Corps where he became an Anti-Tank Assault-Man deploying to Iraq for the initial invasion in 2003 and re-deployed again to Iraq in 2004.
In late 2005, he became a field instructor with the Weapons and Field Training Battalion at Edison Range where he trained more than 6,000 future Marines.
However, when he returned from Iraq, his challenges didn’t end.
“I became a functioning alcoholic basically.”
After the war in Iraq, a new battleground took shape at home as he struggled with post-traumatic stress, addiction, and even attempted suicide during his divorce.
He believed it wasn't until 2011 when he met his service dog, Zeus, that his real recovery began, crediting Zeus as the reason he finished rehab.
“He was my best friend he understood me, I was able to cry in front of him, and I wasn’t able to cry in front of myself.”
Before Zeus, Torres said he never liked dogs and even though he was a trained Marine, he still remembers the fear Zeus instilled in him the first day the two met.
“I heard the deepest darkest growl.”
The one-year-old Lab helped him reconnect to happiness and regain trust in society and escape the anger and loneliness he was harboring after Iraq.
"He just kind of moped there on my lap, I petted him and it made me feel happy again,” Torres said.
He said Zeus also helped reunite him with his family after a second failed marriage.
Torres partnered up with the Bakersfield Animal Care Center to get shelter dogs into veterans' hands for free, where he would train the veteran and the pup how to communicate.
He also worked with The Wounded Warrior Fund for five years to continue his dog training.
Eventually, Torres decided that Zeus would be a better service dog to another local veteran, a double amputee battling PTSD.
“Zeus just stood there and looked at him and he’s like come here boy and Zeus walked up, he petted him and Zeus laid right on his feet you know in his prosthetics and from there I saw my buddy smile again. I saw my dog happy and it helped, it did and he pushed forward and he took him. I cried for a bit every day because I missed my dog.”
Zeus recently passed away but Torres said he truly believes Zeus was sent here to save his life and his friend who was also a veteran struggling.
Torres also started his own business called Tighten Dog Training, where he teaches civilians and veterans how to train their dogs.