ARIZONA'S HEART AND SOUL: Service animals assist veterinarians
(KOLD News 13) TUCSON, Ariz. – Every day, over 22 American military veterans commit suicide.
For those who served our country, it's a stunning and heartbreaking figure.
This week on Arizona's Heart & Sol, we spotlight a local charity committed to assisting veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The veteran is paired with a new best friend by the group.
I was diagnosed with PTSD several years ago, said David Rafus, founder of the 1 Veteran Foundation.
Rafus is a former Marine who worked as a truck driver for almost a decade.
His symptoms were nightmares, which he didn't notice until after he retired.
My wife and I had been talking about obtaining a service dog, and we started searching around, and there were no organizations in southern Arizona that would assist us find a service dog, he explained.
The pair established their foundation at that time.
They find canines, typically those up for adoption at local shelters, and begin the rigorous training procedure with an army of volunteers.
Rafus explained, They have to pass a personality test. A dog can't be a service dog if it exhibits any signs of hostility. They must be able to deal with high-stress situations, and they must be able to protect their veteran in a caring rather than confrontational manner."
Individualized instruction is provided for each participant.
"We refer to them as teammates," Rafus explained. "One of the major problems for most veterans after they leave the military is that their team is no longer there. That's where the part about being a teammate comes in."
These dogs can even be trained to detect a flashback in a veterinarian.
"The body goes through a hormonal change, which the dog can sense before it emerges," Rafus explained. "The dogs will focus the veteran's attention on them in an attempt to alleviate the circumstances that are causing their mind to wander in that route."
It's a way of refocusing their attention so that instead of focusing on a painful occurrence, they focus on the dog. It's not a cure for PTSD; rather, it's a tool to help them manage it and reclaim their productivity."
1 Veteran Foundation got a $300 gift card from KOLD partner Casino Del Sol for their life-saving efforts.
Thank you," Rafus remarked, that's quite generous. It'll be put to good use. We need to buy extra vests for our dogs, so this will come in useful.
A assistance dog might set you back as much as $30,000.
Rafus has put together a dedicated team of people who want to help, and they've managed to keep the price down to $2,500.
That $2,500 basically covers the cost of training, some administrative charges, and any minor medical issues that may emerge during training, he explained. Some canines have a bit more, while some have a bit less. It all depends on the dogs' requirements and the veteran we're preparing.
I spent seven years in the Marine Corps, and we operate on a shoestring budget. Doing more with less is something that has always resonated with me. We do everything we can to assist these vets while spending as little money as possible.
This is where our community can be of assistance.
1 Veteran Foundation's "Save a Pet, Save a Vet" fundraiser will take place at Chuy's Mesquite Broiler, situated at 7101 East 22nd Street, on Saturday, March 26 at 3 p.m.
Live music will be performed, as well as a raffle and an auction. All of the funds raised will be used to train more canines to assist more veterans. You can donate to the 1 Veteran Foundation at any time by visiting https://1veteranfoundation.org/