Service Dogs Provide Support to Veterans at State Fair

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By Matthew Searcy

DU QUOIN -- Fair leaders are trying to attract local veterans with opportunities made just for them.

About a dozen service dogs showed up the Du Quoin State fair on Sunday. Dogs of different shapes and sizes, but all with the same purpose. 
 
"From the moment I wake up to the moment I go to sleep, he is right by my side," said local veteran Matt McComas. 
 
McComas is the proud owner of two-year-old service dog named 'Sarge.' 
 
"He kind of prevents me from going to that really low place that I don't really need to be," explained McComas. 
 
He served five years and spent two tours in Afghanistan. After leaving the military in 2011, McComas says he needed help adjusting to civilian life. That's when he found his Great Dane , Sarge, and a charity called 'Willing Partners.' The non-profit organization is dedicated to providing service dogs for veterans at no cost. 
 
"It just gives people their lives back," said Willing Partners dog trainer Kati Gant. "It's amazing." 
 
Gant says all types of canines can be taught how to meet their owners needs, from mobility issues to therapy assistance. She even has a service dog of her own, Yadi.  
 
"When I can't do something on my own Yadi is right there for me," said Gant. "He doesn't leave me." 
 
McComas says Sarge has become his best friend and encourages others in need of help to follow the same route he did.   
 
"Every time I'm out I talk to people and interact with them and tell them what he is and how he has helped me," explained McComas. "Maybe we can get some more veterans involved with the program."
 
That's not the only promotion for veterans at the State Fair. Labor Day will also be Veterans Appreciation Day. Veterans will get free parking, food, and entertainment.
 
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