Abused puppy and retired Marine helping to heal each other

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SPEERS – An abused puppy in the Mon Valley has landed in the arms of a retired U.S. Marine Corps sniper who needs an equal share of comforting companionship.


Retired Master Sgt. Neil K. Morris, who carries many scars of war, pursued ownership of the 4-month-old pit bull named Trooper as an emotional support dog after learning it was recovering from five stab wounds.


“We’re a pair of survivors,” said Morris, 52, of Speers. “He’s healing me and I’m healing him.”


Morris is somewhat of a legend in military circles for having set the standard for modern sniper training. Morris was the inspiration behind as many as seven books about snipers, and he participated in the rescue of F-16 fighter pilot Scott O’Grady after his plane was shot down in hostile territory in Bosnia in 1995.


Trooper’s former owner, Kimberly Watts of New Eagle, is awaiting trial in Washington County Court on a charge of animal cruelty over allegations she stabbed the dog with a knife March 22 in her home after the animal injured her 2-year-old daughter’s lip and forehead. Two of Trooper’s injuries were serious and required emergency care by an veterinarian.


Morris is attempting to have the Veterans Administration certify Trooper as an emotional support animal, something that would allow him to take the dog into stores and public places. He said Trooper eases his post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms. During his five tours of duty as a Marine, Morris also was wounded in the back by rocket shrapnel and he has other injuries that paralyzed his right leg below the knee.


His first enlistment was in the U.S. Army as a Ranger and he then spent 21 years in the Marine Corps, during which he served as special security at the Pentagon. He said he’s the only person to have been the senior instructor at the nation’s three Marine Corps sniper schools, which are at Fort Pendleton, Calif.; Camp Lejeune, N.C.; and Quantico, Va.


Morris also owns Arrow M, a Texas ranch for abused and abandoned horses. He’s living indefinitely in Speers with his daughter, Rachel, helping her make the transition into graduate school at California University of Pennsylvania. His son, Jacob, also lives in the Pittsburgh area and, he said, he is making up for lost time with his children.


“I spent 12 to 14 years in deployment and missed a lot of their lives,” he said.


He said authors and filmmakers still seek him out for books and movies, attention he has avoided.


Morris said he decided to make public the story about Trooper, who he adopted on Memorial Day, to let other veterans with PTSD know they are “not too tough to get help.”


He also said business owners need to understand these types of dogs are the only reasons some veterans can deal with the public.


The calm Trooper brings him has been allowing him to take afternoon naps again and sleep better at night.


“He’s been a wonderful help to me. I’ve been able to reach a certain level of success.”


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