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  • Britt Myers

Unleashing Hope: Cole, Kaya, and the Legacy of the PAWS Act

Updated: Jun 28

Many people have ideas and dreams, goals and aspirations. We see these areas of opportunity throughout our lives and note them, like a dog-eared book page holding a place in time. But few of us turn back to those moments, take another long, hard look at them, and decide to take action. 

Cole Lyle is one of those few. His journey took him down unexpected and perilous roads, but it’s what he chose to do with those experiences that left an indelible mark.

“When I turned 18, my mom said you’re either joining the military, going to school, or getting a job, but you’re not staying in my house,” Cole laughed. “I knew I had to choose one, and I figured the military would be a good option because I would have the GI Bill if I decided to go back to school.

“The next part was choosing which branch, and really, the only other person I knew who had served was a Marine, so that’s why I went that route. If I had not liked him very much, I might have gone to another branch,” he joked. 

Cole joined the Marine Corps as a reservist in 2008, completed boot camp, and trained as a diesel mechanic. After 18 months or so, he was activated to go to Afghanistan, so he went back to the East Coast to train with the 2nd Marine Logistics Group (2nd MLG) before deploying overseas. 

Cole Lyle serving in Afghanistan.

Cole didn’t need to share extensive details about his time abroad to make it clear that the experience deeply impacted him. 

When he returned to the States, he discovered that his wife had been unfaithful while he was in Afghanistan, and the marriage ended. 

“It coincided almost directly with the time I was getting out of the military,” he shared. “So I was getting out of the military, going through a divorce, didn’t have a job, and wasn’t in school yet. I was at a very low point and still dealing with stuff from Afghanistan.”

In the quiet hours of the night, Cole often found himself grappling with the weight of his experiences during his service and life post-military. 

“I did a post-deployment health assessment and talked to the doctors about having post-traumatic stress. I went to the VA in my local area, and they prescribed pills and therapy which didn’t work for me – and in fact, exacerbated some of the issues I was dealing with. 

“When all of that other stuff was going on and I was still taking medication and trying to do prolonged exposure therapy, it all just manifested. One night, I was drinking too much and was maybe a trigger pull away from becoming another suicide statistic.

“Another Marine showed up and banged on the door, and that saved my life. I went to bed that night and he stayed at the house with me, and when I woke up, I was clear. I can’t really explain it, but it was just like my mindset shifted from, ‘I have nothing and I am nothing,’ to, ‘I’m not tethered by anything, and I have the opportunity to do whatever I want.’”

It was in the wake of this profound change that Kaya, a German Shepherd service dog, entered his life and transformed his journey in ways he could never have imagined.

Cole Lyle with his service dog, Kaya.

Kaya was not just a pet; she was a lifeline. Trained to assist veterans dealing with post-traumatic stress (PTS), Kaya had an innate ability to sense Cole's distress. Whether he was having a nightmare or an anxiety attack, Kaya was there to ground him, offering a calming presence that words alone could not provide.

Her companionship provided a sense of security and unconditional love, helping Cole prioritize his mental health and wellness.

Before Kaya, Cole had tried various treatments for his PTS. Her introduction into his life was a turning point. With Kaya by his side, Cole experienced a significant reduction in his symptoms. The bond they shared went beyond the typical human-animal relationship; Kaya was a trained professional with a heart full of love, and her impact on Cole's life was profound.

Inspired by the difference Kaya made in his life, Cole became a passionate advocate for the use of service dogs in treating PTS. He knew firsthand the benefits these animals could provide and was determined to help other veterans access this life-changing support. This mission led him to the corridors of power in Washington, D.C., where he worked tirelessly to raise awareness and support for the cause.

Cole's efforts culminated in the passage of the Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers (PAWS) Act. This legislation was a significant milestone, providing funding for service dogs for veterans with PTS. The journey to get the PAWS Act passed was not easy. It required countless meetings with lawmakers, sharing personal stories, and presenting research to demonstrate the effectiveness of service dogs in treating PTS. Kaya was often by his side during these meetings, serving as a living testament to the benefits that the PAWS Act could bring to other veterans.

Kaya's presence in these advocacy efforts was more than symbolic. She represented the hope and healing that service dogs could provide. Lawmakers and stakeholders could see firsthand the bond between Cole and Kaya, making the abstract concept of legislative change tangible and deeply personal. Their story moved hearts and minds, turning skepticism into support and paving the way for the PAWS Act to become law on August 25, 2021.

The impact of the PAWS Act has been far-reaching. Veterans across the country now have access to service dogs, offering them a path to recovery and a renewed sense of purpose. Cole's advocacy did not stop with the passage of the Act. He continued to work with organizations dedicated to veterans' health, sharing his story and promoting the benefits of service dogs.

As Director of Government and Community Affairs at Mission Roll Call, Cole continues to champion the causes close to his heart. His work ensures that veterans' voices are heard and their needs are met. Kaya's spirit accompanies him in this mission, a reminder of the healing power of love, companionship, and unwavering support. 

Although she passed away in February 2023, Kaya's legacy lives on through the lives she touched and the policy changes she inspired.

Cole often reflects on the incredible journey they shared, from the depths of his struggles to the heights of their advocacy successes. Kaya's memory fuels his ongoing work, reminding him of their powerful bond and the countless lives that have been, and will continue to be, transformed by service dogs.

There are many parallels between Cole’s action and the impact Mission Roll Call aims to have on the lives of more veterans and their families. It’s one of the reasons we’re grateful to have him as part of our team of passionate and committed veteran advocates. 

Many people see things they’d like to change. But fewer act on them. 

Cole Lyle’s journey with Kaya and his tireless efforts to write and pass the PAWS Act is a vivid embodiment of putting words to action. 

When Cole recognized the profound impact Kaya had on his own life, he saw a critical need among his fellow veterans: access to service dogs for those struggling with PTS. Rather than accept the status quo, Cole embarked on a mission to find a solution. He delved into research, gathering evidence on the effectiveness of service dogs in alleviating PTS symptoms. His efforts were not just personal but deeply empathetic, driven by a desire to help others who were facing similar struggles.

Cole’s approach was comprehensive and strategic. He didn't just rely on his individual experiences; he built a compelling case supported by research and real-life examples. This method mirrors Mission Roll Call’s commitment to evidence-based advocacy. By bringing together personal stories and robust data, Cole was able to present a persuasive argument to policymakers and government leaders, demonstrating the urgent need for the PAWS Act.

Meeting with lawmakers, sharing Kaya's impact, and advocating for policy change required resilience and dedication. Cole’s ability to navigate these challenges and effect change at the highest levels of government is a testament to what can be achieved when veterans’ needs are championed with passion and persistence. 

As Mission Roll Call moves forward, Cole's example serves as an inspiration and a blueprint for future advocacy efforts. By following his lead—identifying a need, conducting thorough research, engaging with policymakers, and pushing for legislative change—Mission Roll Call will continue to make a significant impact on the lives of veterans and their families. 

Cole's story and Kaya's legacy are testaments to the profound difference that service animals can make in the lives of those struggling with PTS. They highlight the importance of innovative approaches to mental health treatment and the need for continued advocacy to support our veterans. Through their journey, Cole and Kaya have shown that even in the darkest times, there is hope and healing to be found.

Kaya and a legacy that endures.

In memory of Kaya, we honor her service and the lives she helped to change. She is a reminder that the bonds shared with service animals can provide comfort and companionship and a powerful force for change. 

Through their partnership, Cole and Kaya have left an indelible mark on the world that will continue to inspire and heal for years to come. 

If you or someone you know is a veteran who could benefit from a service animal like Kaya, please learn more by searching for organizations with accreditation by Assistance Dogs International. Are you interested in sharing your voice with Mission Roll Call to help enact positive change? Become a member today and let your voice be heard.

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