Rescuing Each Other: High School Senior Lends a Hand to PTSD Veterans

You can never tell what a dog’s been through in its life, and when you look at their humans, a glance can’t reveal their pasts, either.

But one dog-training class is starting to make the invisible seen.

“I tell them in my opinion this is the bravest thing they’ve ever done in their whole life," said obedience trainer Joni Bonilla. 

Bonilla is the founder of Operation At Ease. She finds rescue dogs and teaches veterans with PTSD to train them as service dogs to remove the barriers of high costs and waiting lists. Read More...

Niskayuna Non-Profit Connecting Veterans with PTSD Service Dogs

A new non-profit in Schenectady County is pairing veterans with service dogs. Operation at Ease was created a year ago.

From the battlefield to the backyard, Matt Catlin and Casey Harris have been through a lot together.

“I am very lucky because I am getting to go through this program with my best friend from Iraq,” said Catlin.

Catlin and Harris served side by side overseas and returned together in 2007.

“I was kind of looking to get a dog,” said Harris.

“There was an existing program that was placing animals with veterans,” said Catlin.

Thanks to “Operation at Ease,” based in Niskayuna, each is now living with a new companion.

“She’s my little princess. That’s why she is in pink all the time,” said Catlin, standing next to his dog Isla.

The group, founded by Joni Bonilla, provides PTSD service dogs to veterans and active duty military members at no cost.

“It’s really the best thing I’ve ever done in my life,” said Bonilla, who works with rescue operations and shelters to get the dogs.

The animals go through five months of training with their owners, learning how to spot PTSD symptoms and provide comfort.  

“She provides me comfort and companionship in a way that you can’t really replicate with any human relationship,” said Catlin.

Comfort in companionship: something many service members miss when returning home.

“When you get just a little taste of that, it is familiar. It is comfortable, and it is something most veterans are missing,” said Catlin.

“We’re going to take this as big as it wants to go. We’re not going to stop,” said Bonilla.

Veterans who already own dogs are able to participate in training, too.

For more information, contact Bonilla at or 518-847-9941.

Who rescues who?

INDIANA NASH/GAZETTE REPORTER Joni Bonilla, founder of Operation At Ease, poses with Glory, who was recently rescued. Monday, Sept. 12, 2016.

INDIANA NASH/GAZETTE REPORTER Joni Bonilla, founder of Operation At Ease, poses with Glory, who was recently rescued. Monday, Sept. 12, 2016.

Gazette Reporter
NISKAYUNA — The premise of Operation At Ease is simple: fulfilling the needs of
veterans struggling with PTSD and finding a loving home for
dogs who have recently been rescued — “saving one life to greatly benefit another,” as one volunteer puts it.

But for the people and dogs that Joni Bonilla and her team have paired together, it’s much more than that.
“Our bond is unbreakable. She is in tune with my emotions and even my facial expressions. When I need a day just to unwind at home she will gladly sit at my feet for hours looking up and checking in on me between naps,” Marine veteran Eddie Reynolds said of his dog, Callie.

He is working through OAE to have Callie become a certified service dog.
Bonilla, a Niskayuna resident, founded Operation At Ease in the spring of 2015 to join together people struggling with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder with rescue dogs who need a home. Read More...