Army vet's pit bull service dog turns heads in WNC and across the country

(Photo credit: John Le, WLOS)

A Haywood County man said a feared breed of dogs can help veterans with emotional scars.

Justin Tucker's service dog named Roxy might be the poster pup for a new breed of hero.

"They don't ever see a good pit bull," Tucker said recently in downtown Asheville, where he trains Roxy to focus despite distractions in the form of people and noise.

Roxy's a semifinalist for the American Humane Hero Dog Awards. On social media, Justin's urging folks to vote for Roxy online. The second round of voting continues until June 28.

"Cause most people see a pit bull in the news it's a ferocious, aggressive animal," Tucker told News 13. "But when they meet Roxy, they have to ask, 'What kind of dog is that?'"

"Oh my gosh!" he said, petting his pit bull terrier on the belly. "This is what a ferocious pit bull attack in downtown Asheville looks like."

"Technically, in the rule book, they don't make PTSD service dogs," he explained to a woman downtown. "So, it is a psychiatric service dog."

"Oh my goodness," said stranger June Bunch, who quickly became a Roxy fan.

Tucker said he got Roxy on February 2, 2014. His battle against public perception was sparked by a familiar war story. She came to the army vet not long after an explosion in Iraq shattered his life.

"A dark downward spiral of depression," he said of his severe PTSD. "It's hard not to speak of the issues and not be emotional about it."

"My worst incident was a hand grenade explosion that blew up down onto my shoulder," Tucker recalled. "The recurring nightmares and the intrusive thoughts, it plays a toll on your mind."

Tucker also has a traumatic brain injury.

"I use Roxy every day just for that emotional support," he said.

Justin believes her impact could be part of a bigger platform. The American Humane Hero Dog Awards are just the latest avenue to help change the tide when it comes to public opinion.

"She's got almost 36,000 fans on her Facebook," he told a woman downtown. "Trying to get a little spotlight to PTSD and pit bull service dogs."

"That's amazing," she replied.

"We are here to show that not every pit bull is that mean aggressive dog," Tucker said.

He hopes the campaign for votes shed light on a sometimes overlooked breed that could serve more people who served America. While many see fear, Justin sees a potential lifeline for veterans across the country.

"She's better than chocolate! Which is weird to say," says his new friend, June. "You hit the jackpot!"

Which is exactly what Justin thought when he was in the depths of despair.

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