For some couples, it’s a difficult task to decide who should be in your wedding party. You might have several close relatives and friends who you want to stand by your side as you marry your life partner. It can even get quite competitive. But for Justin Lansford, it was one of the easiest decisions of his life. He didn’t have to look far to find his best man: his service dog, Gabe. His wedding was one nobody would forget.
Recovering From An Injury
In 2012, Lansford was deployed in Afghanistan when he lost his left leg due to an improvised explosive device [IED]. As a paratrooper, he was used to extreme danger, but he wasn’t expecting a massive explosion to flip his truck one day. This accident caused him to have bilaterally severed femurs, eventually resulting in the amputation of his left leg. It seemed like the end of the road for Lansford, but he couldn’t give up yet. He had to keep fighting, but he couldn’t do it alone.
Instead, he was assigned a two-year-old service dog, Gabe, to help him cope with his post-traumatic stress disorder [PTSD]. The two immediately became close friends and Lansford realized just how much he needed the service pet. “He helps me with one thing to the next. I can use him as a stable surface to lean on, as I get to and from the ground,” Lansford said. “If I fall, he’ll come up running next to me and I can use him to push off of to get up off the ground.”
Lansford added, “The less I use my wheelchair, the more I need his help in smaller tasks and the more he is there. It has been very comforting to know that. I have a prosthetic lubricant to slide my leg into place in the morning and he can retrieve that.” Whatever Lansford needs, Gabe is right there to help him along the way. It didn’t take long for Gabe to become his best friend.
Man’s Best ‘Man’
Dogs are man’s best friend, but in 2015, Gabe had the honor of being Lansford’s best man in his Largo, Florida wedding to his long-time girlfriend, Carol Balmes. Gabe walked down the aisle with both his “parents” and served as the best man and ring bearer. The wedding was a success, thanks to Gabe. In case you’re wondering, Lansford was thrilled to have his best friend by his side. While most grooms would choose a human friend as their best man, that was never going to be the case for Lansford. There was only one choice for him: the loyal friend who had saved his life over and over again. He couldn’t have imagined his wedding any differently.
Learning To Help Others
Since 2014, Justin and Carol have been happily married and have enjoyed their countless adventures, often including their “child”, Gabe. The service dog still works for Justin and he helps his dad in whatever tasks he needs to be completed. But the couple has realized they have a passion for service dogs and animals in general. They decided to give back in whatever way possible. The couple started fostering young puppies for Warrior Canine Connections, an organization that connects veterans dealing with PTSD. In 2012, Justin was matched with Gabe through the organization, so it was only fitting for Justin and Carol to give back to the organization that has provided so much for the veteran.
The couple became particularly close with one adorable puppy, PJ. They fostered the puppy for a while until he was officially adopted by a family that lived across the street from them. Gabe has his own pet friend now and the couple couldn’t be more excited.
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