Veteran and his K-9 companion surprised with new home

Real estate company donates home to graduate of K9s for Warriors program

By Joy Purdy - 5:30, 6:30 & 11 p.m. anchor

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - After serving his country, then experiencing some of the worst trauma afterward, a local Army veteran had hit rock bottom.

Rick Smith has been through it all after serving overseas -- post-traumatic stress disorder, a traumatic brain injury and suicide attempts. 

But Smith's recovery has been remarkable with the help of a K-9 companion from K9s for Warriors, which rescues dogs then trains them to be service dogs for veterans suffering from PTSD and traumatic brain injuries.

Then, on Wednesday, Smith was surprised with the ultimate gift: a new home. 

Smith was seemingly overwhelmed as a crowd of people greeted him for the housewarming party of sorts.

Smith was handed the keys before he and his service dog, Berkeley, walked into their new home in the Lakeshore area of Jacksonville's Westside for the first time. 

Rick Smith sees his new home for the first time.

"It's like I'm in a dream," Smith said. "I mean, it's like, 'Is this really happening?'"

He shared the special moment with his family, who said it was also a celebration of the huge life strides Smith has made.

"He's had it rough, but he's had a lot of good people standing behind him and help him," said Alton and Brenda Smith, his parents. 

That help came from the nonprofit K9s for Warriors pairing canine companion Berkeley with Smith, after the Army and Alabama National Guard veteran suffered severe head trauma in Kuwait, followed by PTSD, including blackouts, nightmares and flashbacks. 

"I'm just overwhelmed (with) compassion and thankfulness for what they've done for me here," Smith said. 

With Berkeley's help, Smith has powered back, and is now very active, volunteering in his community. 

He had been living with his parents until now.

The house was donated to Smith by local real estate company JWB, which wanted to give back to veterans in the Jacksonville community when its team met Smith, the graduate of the K9s for Warriors program.

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