The Christmas light display at Matt and Darci Drinkwalters Lockwood home is pretty impressive. "Merry on Mizti" (at 3475 Mitzi Dr on the Billings Christmas Lights Map) is beautiful in its own right, but when you hear the story behind the family's brilliantly twinkling display it's even prettier.

The holidays can be tough for many veterans.

Homeowner Matt Drinkwalter is a disabled combat veteran, who served in Iraq with the 3rd Ranger Battalion. His wife Darci said that the month of December is tough for her husband, with dates and anniversaries bringing back painful memories from his time in the service. Ten years ago, she decided they needed to shift gears around the holiday season, and what began with a single Santa Clause inflatable has now grown to thousands of lights and decorations, covering practically every square foot of the yard.

Photo by Darci Drinkwalter, used with permission
Photo by Darci Drinkwalter, used with permission
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So... what about the dog?

Darci said their boys have started handing out candy canes to people who stop to look at their lights and they're collecting donations for K9 Care Montana, a Montana non-profit that provides service dogs to wounded veterans, first responders, and children challenged by autism. That's Matt's dog Liberty in the picture above.

The Drinkwalter family has had Liberty for seven years and she's trained to assist with a number of tasks, including mobility, "posting" and "blocking" around her owner, picking items up, even turning on the lights. Trained service dogs like this can cost $20,000 or more and the Drinkwalters are grateful they were able to receive Liberty, the golden retriever from K9 Care Montana.

Photo by Darci Drinkwalter, used with permission
Photo by Darci Drinkwalter, used with permission
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K9 Care Montana has provided many veterans with service animals.

I spoke with founder David "Dogman" Riggs this afternoon to find out more about their program and what they do. Headquartered near Livingston, K9 Care Montana began in 2009 and Riggs said they're able to train and deliver 6 - 8 dogs per year to individuals who need them. He added that dog recipients really become like extended families with a full circle of support.

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Credit: David Osberg
Credit: David Osberg
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You can help this valuable program.

The need for service dogs far exceeds supply, with funding a major challenge. Currently, the VA only helps pay for seeing-eye dogs. The recently passed PAWS Act should increase funding and allow more qualifying conditions for service animals for veterans. The description of the bill reads,

To direct the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to make grants to eligible organizations to provide service dogs to veterans with severe post-traumatic stress disorder, and for other purposes.

Matt and Darci Drinkwalter can vouch for the benefits these dogs can provide. If you stop by their light display, would you please consider making a donation to K9 Cares Montana? If the kids aren't outside selling candy canes when you come by, Darci said there is a slot in Santa's Mailbox where you can leave a donation.

Got cool lights? Enter our Light Up Billings Contest for a chance to win $500 with TDS Fiber.

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