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12 Who Care: Ponte Vedra army veteran on a mission to train service dogs for children with autism

Erik Kolbow served 12 years in the Army with multiple combat tours to Iraq and Afghanistan. He was one of the military's top dog trainers.

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — Some people call Erik Kolbow the dog whisperer.

The Army veteran trained dogs in the military how to sniff out landmines. Now, he's on a mission to train service dogs for non-verbal children with autism. 

"I absolutely love it and this is what keeps me going. It's my therapy," Erik Kolbow said. 

Erik served 12 years in the Army with multiple combat tours to Iraq and Afghanistan. He was honorably discharged due to medical reasons. 

"I understand.  I get it. I know that the invisible wounds are the hard ones.  I really do."

Credit: Erik Kolbow

His soon to be non-profit is called P.A.W., which stands for Psychiatric Autism Wheelchair Mobility Assistance Service Dogs. He's currently training several service dogs, including a standard poodle named Mylo. 

"I think it's different than anything else around and anything else I've ever seen," Gracie Mixon, an intern from the University of North Florida, told First Coast News. She's worked with Erik for seven months.

"When he gets with dogs, he's unlike anything else with these dogs.  He's the best at what he does," Mixon explained. 

Erik says all of the dogs have been trained with zero costs from most of the families. If they can't pay for it, he doesn't say no. 

"I don't believe in holding people back because they can't pay for it. That's the problem. On the autism side, it already cost $80,000 annually for a family with a child with autism. Are we going to really charge anywhere from $25,000 to $50,000?  I don't think that's right," Kolbow said.


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♬ Vibe (If I Back It Up) - Cookiee Kawaii

On social media, P.A.W. is gaining a following.  That is what Erik wants, so he can get the word out and help more families. 

"I'm willing to give up whatever I have to, personally, to get this to where it has to be," Kolbow added. 

Erik has been funding P.A.W. with most of his own money. He says P.A.W. should become a certified non-profit in less than two weeks.

If you would like to learn more about the organization or donate money, click here.

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