Pflugerville resident Carla Carroll comes from a strong military background. Her grandfather served as a lieutenant commander in the Navy, while her father did a two-year stint in the armed forces.

From age 35-38, Carroll worked at the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command, where she met countless veterans and their service dogs. For veterans struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression or other mental health conditions, Carroll said these animals are not just pets: They are their life lines.

"I remember asking them, 'Why do you have a service dog?'" Carroll said. "And they all just said, 'This dog knows me. And when I get a little upset or frightened, she just knows what to do.'"

Carroll founded the Zeus & Luna 2 Pay It Forward Foundation in February 2020, a nonprofit whose mission is to unite German shepherd puppies with military veterans, first responders and emergency medical services personnel.

For Carroll, she knows firsthand how powerful a connection people forge with their pets. She lost her two dogs, Duke and Riley, in early 2018. In August 2018, her friend gifted her a new puppy named Luna. From there, she said she wanted to pay it forward to all of those who had sacrificed so much for others.

"And I thought to myself, [the Pflugerville community] has a lot of military personnel and, you know, with COVID going on and a lot of depression going on, why not?" Carroll said. "Since Luna was gifted to me, we went and got Zeus, and we decided just to pay it forward."

The foundation services police departments with trained K-9s, military veterans with support animals as well as individuals in need of emotional support or physical protection, per its mission statement.

Housing, veterinary care services and placement of dogs are covered by the nonprofit, with selected candidates matched with puppies at no personal cost. Local Veterans Affairs branches report wait lists as long as three years for a canine match, Carroll said; her nonprofit aims to alleviate some of that strain off of the VA and ensure recipients are given timely access to their support animals.

Twelve puppies from Zeus and Luna's litter will find their forever homes Jan. 9, when Carroll will unite the nonprofit's recipients with their canine friends. In an email, one of the nonprofit's named recipients thanked Carroll for the work she and her team have done to honor the sacrifices of those who have served.

"The love and passion behind the Zeus & Luna 2 Pay It Forward Foundation is unwavering," the letter read. "This mission is an enriched way to pay it forward to our local heroes who are made up of veterans and emergency response service members to provide them with a loving partner, bond and purpose."

In her dreams, Carroll said she envisions a camaraderie house on 5 acres of land with an expansive kitchen, dorms for men and women, on-site counselors and entertainment rooms where members can relax and socialize. She said she dreams of a place where veterans can reunite and learn how to train their puppies, all while providing a sense of safety, understanding and comfort.

"It's their buddy; it's their best friend," Carroll said. "It's their shadow, and that bond is inseparable."

To learn more about the Zeus & Luna 2 Pay It Forward Foundation, click here.