K9s for Warriors program saves local veteran

Joe Wester says he was in a dark place after he was hurt and discharged from the military
Published: Jul. 25, 2022 at 6:13 PM CDT
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OSHKOSH, Wis. (WBAY) - Clintonville’s Joe Wester has a long history with the military.

He served nearly 12 years... but his life turned upside down when he got hurt and discharged from the service.

“It was pretty bleak for me. It was hard to maintain a job. Hard to really keep relationships. Hard to function, really...” Wester said. “I found some friends. Some tight, close friends. Some people I served with... but outside of that it was pretty difficult to function.”

Wester said he hit a dreary spiral... not having much assistance or power in his transition to civilian life.

“I was in a really dark place. I knew a lot of mental pain, emotional pain, physical pain. I couldn’t find a way out of it. I had made a plan to end myself—end my life.”

A routine trip to Firehouse Subs in Oshkosh changed his life.

He saw an ad for K-9s for Warriors on his soda cup.

“I made a phone call. And I ended up talking to a gentleman named Rory. We talked for a few minutes. He said submit an application, let us know. We’ll see what we can do.”

That application is 32 pages long.

It has successfully paired 745 veterans facing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Traumatic Brain Injury or Military Sexual Trauma with a service dog.

...including Wester and a black lab named Betsy in 2019.

“In this case, Joe and Betsy are a match made in heaven. A beautiful lab. An incredible warrior. An incredible story. And those two finding each other is exactly what we want to see. Hope reborn like that,” K-9s for Warriors CEO Rory Diamond said. “From the moment they were paired up we just saw that every step after that they were both stronger.”

Wester works for Oshkosh Corporation where he designs assembly fixtures and tooling.

It’s a job he loves... made possible by his life-saving canine companion.

“Having a service dog at work is required by law if someone has a disability but Oshkosh has gone above and beyond. They’ve absolutely made Joe and Betsy feel comfortable and at home,” Diamond said.

To anyone struggling, Wester encourages them to be open to seeking help.

“It doesn’t have to be a medical professional. Just find someone you can trust and talk about it. That’s kind of the big thing that saved me... and once that ball started moving I was able to start finding treatments like Betsy here who really makes life a lot easier for me.”

For more information about K-9s for Warriors, visit https://k9sforwarriors.org/.

Plus, Wisconsin launched a universal suicide crisis hotline. By dialing 988, you can access free and 24/7 confidential support, for people of all ages who are experiencing suicidal thoughts, a mental health and/or substance crisis, or any other kind of emotional distress.

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