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Anchored by Jake Tapper, The Lead airs at 4 p.m. ET on CNN.

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February 14th, 2014
05:44 PM ET

Lending a helping paw: Pairing man's best friend with wounded veterans

(CNN) – We've all seen the videos: a loving dog, a proud serviceman, a tear-jerking welcome home from man's best friend. There's no hiding that returning veterans are important to their dogs.

But increasingly thousands of veterans coming home with war wounds are coming to think of dogs as their lifelines.

Canine Companions for Independence, a non-profit group, trains thousands of service dogs nationwide to help with a wide range of tasks – from turning on lights, to shutting doors, to simply lifting the mood.

Sgt. Calvin Smith spent a decade in the Marine Corps, including two tours to Iraq. After surviving both a Humvee crash and an IED explosion, Smith returned to California with injuries to his brain, back, and legs.

For five years, his black lab Chesney has helped him with balance and small tasks, giving peace of mind to Smith and his entire family.

PetSmart announced Friday that it is teaming up with Canine Companions for Independence to launch PetSmart for Patriots – a nationwide effort to provide dog companions to veterans in need, free of charge.

"We all go in when we're 18 and made to think we can do it on our own… it's tough to ask for help, we got to take care of our own," said PetSmart executive Bruce Thorn, who is also a combat veteran.

"It's not normal for service men and women today to think they need help,'" said Thorn. "There's humility, they're humble, they just want to say, 'No just help somebody else."

Like many of his fellow service members, Smith wanted to help others first, insisting his own injuries were too minor to warrant canine assistance.

"I was kind of pushing back like no, I'm good, you should give him to somebody else, I'm not that injured," said Smith.

But accepting Chesney has enabled him to be more independent, says Smith.

"Before I was always having to depend on people. I didn't like having to say it or, like, feeling it. But when I got him it was like having your life back," said Smith. "He's been a huge part of me with the recovery process ... (not) only physical but mental. He's like a best bud."

As PetSmart for Patriots launches nationwide, Thorn and Smith are hopeful that more veterans will experience the kind of friendship offered by Chesney.

For more information on applying for service dogs click here, or head to your local PetSmart.

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