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This Able Veteran provides service dogs for area vets

  • Sarah Childers (right) with Neill, and Talley Fralish with Mo, joined employees of South Porte Bank at Rent One Park on Sunday to bring awareness and hopefully encourage donations to This Able Veteran.

    Sarah Childers (right) with Neill, and Talley Fralish with Mo, joined employees of South Porte Bank at Rent One Park on Sunday to bring awareness and hopefully encourage donations to This Able Veteran.
    Holly Kee photo

  • Sarah Childers is currently training Neill, a two-year-old labrador.  Along with basic obedience, Neill will alert to PTSD, anxiety, nightmares, and can also retrieve.

    Sarah Childers is currently training Neill, a two-year-old labrador. Along with basic obedience, Neill will alert to PTSD, anxiety, nightmares, and can also retrieve.
    Holly Kee photo

  • Jesse Smith of Du Quoin, gives his dog, Wyatt, a friendly head scratch.  Wyatt helps Smith to cope with his PTSD, nightmares, and anxiety.

    Jesse Smith of Du Quoin, gives his dog, Wyatt, a friendly head scratch. Wyatt helps Smith to cope with his PTSD, nightmares, and anxiety.
    Holly Kee photo

  • Veteran Sam Hoekstra of Carterville, with his canine buddy, 'Memphis,' got to throw out a first pitch at Sunday afternoon's Southern Illinois Miners game.

    Veteran Sam Hoekstra of Carterville, with his canine buddy, 'Memphis,' got to throw out a first pitch at Sunday afternoon's Southern Illinois Miners game.
    Justin Walker photo

 
By Holly Kee
hkee@localsouthernnews.com
updated: 6/5/2018 12:09 PM

For many veterans, returning to civilian life after serving in a war zone is not easy.

While some return with physical injuries, others suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), making the transition back to civilian life a hardship, if not impossible.

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, 22 veterans commit suicide daily.

One local group is making a difference in reversing that trend.

This Able Veteran, a Carbondale-based organization, provides trained service dogs to area vets.

"We help veterans come home," said Pam Largent of Marion, who has served as the organization's president since 2013.

In operation since 2012, the group has placed 40 animals so far, with another 10 slated to "graduate" on Dec. 13.

"When we first started, we had the dream of using shelter dogs," she said. Unfortunately, Largent said that proved impossible.

"We had an 85 percent wash out rate," she said. "We didn't know the history, health, temperament."

Largent said that taking donations, training, and then not being able to use the dogs meant not only wasted money, but also a vet that did not get a dog.

They have since gone to breeder-specific dogs, mostly labradors.

Sarah Childers of Marion has been a trainer for about a year. She is currently working with Neill, a 2-year-old lab, teaching him not only basic obedience but also PTSD alerts, nightmare alerts, and anxiety alerts.

"This is what I do," she said. "I can't imagine doing anything else."

Childers and Largent, along with others from the organization including several vets and their service dogs, joined employees of Marion's South Porte Bank at Rent One Park in Marion on Sunday to bring awareness for the organization and hopefully, more support.

"Everything we do is supported by donations," said Largent. "We get no government funding."

Brittany Neal of South Porte Bank said the event at the Miners' game was their first.

"This is a charity we all voted on," she said. "Right now, it's kind of brand new but we're looking forward to more events."

Largent said they have several sponsors like the Rotary, Elks, and Banterra Bank, who, along with South Porte, help to fund the program. "Then, we have the wonderful people that can only afford $5," she said with a smile. "Anything we get is more than we had."

The cost for training a service animal from start to finish is around $25,000. Each animal undergoes about two years of training before being paired with a veteran.

Jesse Smith is one of the 40 area vets to get paired with a service dog. Smith, who lives in Du Quoin, served in the U.S. Army in Afghanistan. He has had Wyatt for about two years.

"He helps with PTSD, nightmare alerts, and anxiety," said Smith. "He helps me just being out in public."

As part of the program, the veterans and their dogs undergo what is called Trauma Resiliency. "They taught a lot of how to cope with anxiety and depression," said Smith. "I got the best of both worlds when I signed up."

Largent said pairing the dogs with the vets allows them to do things they might not otherwise be able to do.

"It may not be the life they had," she said, "but it helps them regain the life they would like to have again."