Nero, a 12-year-old former military working dog, looks on at the crowd Jan. 30 during a question-and-answer session with Danny Scheurer, founder and CEO of Save-A-Vet, the organization that takes care of Nero, at the Holmes Student Center in DeKalb, Ill. (Kyle Bursaw / Daily Chronicle via AP)
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DEKALB, Ill. — Nero isn't your average veteran.
He served with the Navy in a bomb detection unit in Iraq and protected more than 3,000 soldiers during his deployment. But the things that separate Nero from most veterans are his four legs and furry coat.
To fellow Iraq War veteran Danny Scheurer, Nero is more than a German shepherd. He is a hero. Both Scheurer and Nero were injured in the line of duty in Iraq. As a result, Scheurer receives roughly $1,000 a month from the government. Nero was in line for a different fate.
"His reward for getting injured was to be euthanized," Scheurer said.
Scheurer and Nero visited Northern Illinois University on Wednesday to raise awareness about military working dogs with stories similar to Nero's. NIU's Military Student Services and the Disability Resource Center hosted more than 100 students, veterans and community members at the presentation titled "The Other Forgotten Soldier."
As keynote speaker at the event, Scheurer also brought awareness to the Save-A-Vet program, which he founded in 2007 to prevent military working dogs like Nero from being euthanized after their service.
The program takes in former military working dogs that are deemed unfit for adoption after their service. The Military Working Dog school at Lackland Air Force Base administers tests to determine whether or not the dogs can be adopted.
Scheurer said more than 4,500 dogs fail these tests because they have suffered injuries or have post-traumatic stress disorder from their time in the military.
The only people certified to take care of what the government considers "hazardous equipment" are veterans who have been given security clearance in their time of duty, which most military veterans have obtained.
Dogs have accompanied America's troops overseas since World War I. The U.S. armed forces are aided by a force of about 2,000 dogs. They are used to guard military bases, sniff out explosives and help with search-and-rescue operations.
According to Scheurer, the average deployed dog saves three to five soldiers a day. As founder and CEO of Save-A-Vet, he is simply returning the favor.
The program houses 13 veterans and their dogs, a number Scheurer hopes to increase dramatically in the future.
Many people at the event were eager to help the organization after hearing Scheurer's presentation and learning more about the program. Scheurer stressed that volunteering goes further than fundraising.
He said he hopes to work with many more colleges like NIU to help raise awareness about the issue and get more hands to help him build the organization.
NIU business student and Navy veteran Thaddeus Hupp would like to lend one of those helping hands. He is working to set up a Save-A-Vet philanthropy at the College of Business.
Jarvis Purnell, acting director of Military Student Services at NIU, also was inspired by Scheurer's cause and said he hoped the other attendees were, too.
"The goal was to get the community out here, those connected with the military and those not connected, to become aware of the issues veterans face when they come home," he said.
Although he appreciates the effort many are making to help expand his organization, Scheurer said ideally the program wouldn't be necessary.
"If we don't have to exist anymore, that's a good thing," he said. "It means the government is doing their job."
The Save-A-Vet program is accepting applications for veterans interested in taking care of dogs like Nero. Scheurer said the job is simple.
"We just give them love and care," he said.
For former military working dogs like Nero, that can make all the difference.