TILTON — People in Vermilion County raised $15,000 in less than a month to get support dogs for veterans with PTSD. Harlie and Raven are the dogs in training. They’re getting ready to spend their lives serving people who served our country.
Dogs are already man’s best friend. A couple of them are going to be more than that to their next owner. Andy Schulte, from Catlin’s American Legion, says their services are well needed.
“We’re losing an average of 22 veterans a day to suicide,” said Schulte. “So once we start looking at it, the service animals are a big benefit for someone who is having PTSD.”
He, like many others in Vermilion County, did the 22-push up challenge. Then they wanted to do more. So they came up with the idea for the dogs.
“We all decided to come together, sit down and try to raise $7,500 in 22 days,” said Schulte. “At the end of the 22nd day, we were right at $15,000.”
A $3,500 donation came from Mission 22 in Champaign. The non-profit helps veterans, so this was another way to do it.
“Once I found out what the veteran suicide rate was, it was alarming to me that we were losing that many veterans a day and so it feels good to try to help people,” said Diane McCall, who is the office manager for Mission 22.
Tony Piatt is the owner and master trainer at Paw-a-Day Inn and K9 Suites. He found the dogs and says training is going well.
“Our two trainers have worked their butts off to get where the dogs are so far,” said Piatt. “Normally this type of training takes about two years. We’re doing it probably in about 3-5 months.”
Basic obedience comes first. Then they work toward special skills, like nudging. The dogs do that when they can tell something’s wrong with their owner.
“If the veteran actually has some anxiety or something like that, the dogs come over and get their attention,” said Piatt.
“If they’re out in public or home or whatever, the service animal is going to be able to pick up on it and hopefully break that thought process to get them thinking about something else other than the depression,” said Schulte.
They hope the veteran will start thinking about something like the love of a dog. That can put a smile on anyone’s face. The first veteran has started training with Harlie. Piatt says they connected immediately and the veteran is very excited to have her soon.
Technically any kind of dog can be a service dog. Piatt says they wanted to pick a medium or larger breed dog, so they found a lab mix and German Shepherd mix. He says dogs have a special gland in the back of their throats that can smell fear, or at least the physical changes that happen to your body when you’re anxious, like sweating and breathing heavily.