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How these animals are helping veterans, first responders heal

DOSWELL, Va. -- At first glance the quiet, bucolic farm sitting in Doswell looks like countless others in the area. But few places offer what Checkpoint One does -- 33 acres of healing.

“We’ve got the birds. We’ve got deer and we’ve got a pond,” Checkpoint One co-founder Andy Kaufmann said. “What you hear right now is as loud as it gets.”

The non-profit provides therapy for military, first responders and their families for free.

The farm's therapists stand on two and four legs. Eight horses and donkeys including, Tiny Elvis, Cocoa and Izzy provide non-riding stress relief improving mental health.

Sarah, the wife of a military veteran and her family, bonded with the animals during their weekly sessions.

Sarah said the benefits gained here carry over at home.

“When they approach you, you start to forget about your bad day or if something has been going on. It makes me emotional thinking about it,” Sarah said. “It’s like they understand and get it. You can’t find that a lot.”

Kaufmann, a former chopper pilot suffers from physical and non visible wounds from his service in Iraq, can relate.

“Smiling on the outside and dying a slow death on the inside," Kaufmann remembered. "The ability to admit you need help is internal."

After seeking similar help for mental and physical pain, Kaufmann vowed not to see others suffer silence and knew horses were the answer.

“Two years ago, I would have thought it was a bunch of nonsense, but now I live and breathe it. I love it,” Kaufmann said. “My military service was awesome and I loved doing it. This equals or exceeds that.”

Co-founder Kristin Fitzgerald said equines never judge.

“The forward momentum these guys allow is amazing," Fitzgerald said. "They all have their own unique personalities. I feel really blessed to be able to offer people this safe space.”

For Kaufmann, watching clients transform is most rewarding.

“I love it," Kaufmann said. "I honestly wouldn’t want to be doing anything else with my life right now."

For a once-skeptical Sarah,  she never imagined healing would arrive on a slow trot.

“I think animals are a whole lot smarter than what people give them credit for especially the horses," she said.

In addition to the equine therapy, Checkpoint One offers yoga classes.

Clients at Checkpoint One do not pay for the therapy. Kaufmann and Fitzgerald said their non-profit operates entirely on donations.

Click here if you would like to help the organization or learn more about therapy.

Watch CBS 6 News at 6 p.m. Thursdays for Greg McQuade's "Heroes Among Us" reports. If you know of someone CBS 6 should should feature, email heroes@wtvr.com

Watch CBS 6 News at 6 p.m. Thursdays for Greg McQuade's "Heroes Among Us" reports. If you know of someone CBS 6 should should feature, email heroes@wtvr.com

Watch CBS 6 News at 6 p.m. Thursdays for Greg McQuade's "Heroes Among Us" features. If you know of someone CBS 6 should should feature, email heroes@wtvr.com. Click here to view more "Heroes Among Us" reports.