'He gives me freedom': Nonprofit gives veterans service dogs to heal emotional, physical wounds

BELLINGHAM, Wash. -- David Umphenour and his dog Oscar were meant to be best friends.

Oscar is Umphenour’s service dog from Brigadoon Dogs, an organization providing service dogs for veterans, along with kids and adults with physical and developmental disabilities. Q13 met up with the US Navy veteran and his new dog at the organization’s facility in Bellingham  to witness the two learning to work together as a team.

Umphenour proudly served our country for 13 years with the Navy, until a rare allergy to a chemical on board Navy submarines affected his health and brain, forcing him to retire. These days, Oscar is helping him overcome health challenges to live a fuller life.

“He gives me freedom,” Umphenour told Q13. “I am not homebound. My wife and I can go out and have a date night,  we can go out shopping and I won’t get stressed out because of large crowds.”

Katy Brehan is the lead dog trainer for Brigadoon Service dogs and says these dogs are much more than just faithful friends and loving pets. They normalize life for a veteran who may be dealing with emotional, mental or physical wounds sustained while serving in the military.  

“A lot of people avoid social interaction and become isolated. That dog is an open door to a world they thought they’d never go back to,” said Brehan.

Instead, for veterans like Umphenour, a service dog allows our country’s heroes to focus on a brighter future of possibility over limitation.

“This was definitely meant to be,” Umphenour said. “Oscar and I have formed a bond that very few people get to experience. It’s great. I love him.”