By Todd Cohen
HIGH POINT, N.C. — Roughly 300,000 veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, or nearly 20 percent of returning forces, are likely to suffer from either post traumatic stress disorder or major depression, and another 320,000 returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan may have experienced traumatic brain injuries during deployment.
In addition four to five veterans commit suicide every day, on average, and possibly as many as 18 a day, according to some estimates.
In 2010, to help returning veterans cope with life back home, an Army veteran who is an animal trainer created Patriot Rovers, a nonprofit in High Point that trains Golden Retrievers as psychiatric service dogs and pairs them with wounded veterans.
Operating with an annual budget of roughly $175,000, Patriot Rovers has placed 47 dogs, mainly in North Carolina, including 27 it expects to place this year.
And it aims to place 30 to 50 dogs next year, says Kathy Bull, a consultant who serves as the group’s executive director.
Founded by David R. Cantara, who serves as its board chair, Patriot Rovers rescues dogs, trains and boards them, provides veterinary care, and then pairs them with veterans, spending about 80 hours over a month or two helping the veterans and the dogs adjust to one another.
The dogs are trained to perform tasks such as reminding the veterans to take their medicine, or calming them when they have anxiety attacks or wake up from night terrors.
The Veterans Administration or the trauma units at its hospitals refer veterans to Patriot Rovers, which works with the American Psychiatric Service Dog Society to keep up with research and best practices, Bull says.
“It’s almost like a prescription,” she says.”Veterans are referred to us because the VA believes that in addition to counseling, this is an important part of being able to function.”
The nonprofit also names the dogs, with permission from Gold Star families, for soldiers killed in service.
Patriot Rovers counts on individual donations and corporate sponsorships from companies such as Purina Dog Chow and Market America to cover all its costs.
ma Cares, a corporate philanthropic initiative of Market America and shop.com, recently awarded $27,300 to the organization.