SAN ANTONIO – Every day, about 20 military veterans in the United States die by suicide – more than are lost daily in combat. Many of these veterans develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) transitioning back to civilian life. A new program is bringing canines and veterans together to save lives.
Marine veteran Lyndon Villone is never without his service dog, Ice, by his side.
“Ice is a Siberian Huskey and he just turned 8 in July," said Villone.
Villone suffered from PTSD after returning from Iraq and learning he lost six fellow soldiers to suicide.
“It was after that that I brought the shotgun back to my parent’s house and went to sleep with him underneath the picnic table,” Villone said.
Cheryl Krause-Parello, director of Canines Providing Assistance to Wounded Warriors (C-P.A.W.W.) at Florida Atlantic University explained, “Unfortunately, the statistics show that 20 veterans a day are taking their own life but that’s underreported.”
Krause-Parello first witnessed the bond between Lyndon and Ice.
“It was like watching him pet his trauma away,” continued Krause-Parello.
She created C-P.A.W.W. to study the connection between them.
“They can help them sleep better, get off medications that maybe they were on for insomnia, anxiety,” said Krause-Parello.
Her team uses saliva samples from veterans to measure stress levels.
“People are really looking at this now as alternative non-pharmacological intervention,” stated Krause-Parello.
Austin Capers, U.S. Army Combat Veteran, told us, “I spent 15 months in Iraq.”
Capers was taking anti-depressants before meeting his boxer, Rita.
“I think had I not had Rita in my life I would still be on those today,” said Capers.
Cheryl says veterans returning to civilian life need a purpose these pets can provide. But training a service dog can cost up to $30,000.
“Service dogs for veterans with PTSD or invisible wounds, it’s not reimbursable,” said Krause-Parello.
She’s hoping her research will change that.
“I probably would have made a very poor decision and I probably would have taken my life,” Villone stated.
Cheryl’s work through C-P.A.W.W. is funded by donations and grants.
The program recently received a grant from the National Institutes of Health to follow veterans interested in training a service dog, not for themselves, but for other veterans.
For more information on donating to C-P.A.W.W. go to www.nursing.fau.edu/outreach/cpaww.
Villone started his own nonprofit called Heel the Heroes, which helps veterans reconnect to society and their families through coping mechanisms and training their own pets for emotional support. For more information on Heel the Heroes, go to www.heeltheheroes.org.
In the San Antonio area, there are a number of treatment centers that specialize in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, including Warriors Heart in Bandera. The website is https://www.warriorsheart.com/ptsd/.
If you are interested in getting matched with an emotional support dog locally, you may contact https://therapyanimalssa.org.