Donation to service dog organization ‘probably saving somebody’s life’

Benjamin the golden retriever accompanied Joseph Worley, an Iraq veteran, to the Veterans Day ceremony at Southold's American Legion post. (Credit: Chris Lisinski)

Benjamin the golden retriever has several neat tricks to help his master, Joseph Worley.

He can fetch, sure, but he can bring Mr. Worley more than a tennis ball on command. Shoes? He’ll fetch. Wallet? He’s got it.

When Mr. Worley says “brace,” Benjamin stands beside him and tenses his muscles so that his master — who lost his left leg in an IED explosion in Fallujah, Iraq more than 11 years ago — can lean on him to keep balance or to stand up from the floor.And on top of taking those commands, Benjamin has given Mr. Worley such emotional comfort that the former Navy corpsman considers his dog a part of his family.

As a service dog trained by America’s Vet Dogs, all of Benjamin’s tricks are designed to help Mr. Worley and veterans like him in their day-to-day lives. Now, thanks to a $10,000 donation made on Veterans Day by the Southold , the Smithtown organization can work on helping even more veterans.

“The best time of my recovery and the time that I got better the quickest was the time when I had Benjamin there,” Mr. Worley said. “The only reason [America’s Vet Dogs] is able to do stuff is because of amazing people like the Ladies Auxiliary here.”

Mr. Worley got Benjamin three years after he returned home from Iraq. Since 2008, he has worked with America’s Vet Dogs as a veterans’ liaison, and he frequently travels around the country to speak about the program. On Wednesday, he was a special guest at the Legion’s ceremony honoring veterans.Dog1

Ada Horton, the Ladies Auxiliary member who organized the fundraising and donation, presented him and Katherine Fritz, director of development for America’s Vet Dogs, with a check. The Ladies Auxiliary had raised the money through a combination of raffles, yard sales and donations over the past several years.

Mr. Worley said the donation would have immediate and concrete benefits.

“You guys are probably saving somebody’s life,” he told the Ladies Auxiliary. “I know a few guys for whom the only reason they felt like getting out of bed some mornings was that cold nose on their elbow … [These dogs] pull people out of depression, out of that sinkhole.”

Although Ms. Horton does not have a service dog herself, she helped raise two guide dogs about 40 years ago. In all the years since then, she has always been interested in the help dogs can offer.

“It really opens up a much bigger world [for veterans] when they’ve got a dog to guide them,” she said. “It’s just amazing what these dogs can do.”

The dogs must undergo an extensive training process before they can become service dogs for veterans, according to Ms. Fritz. One dog can cost the group up to $50,000, and they also offer lifetime care for the service dog — but the veterans never have to pay for anything beside dog food.

Ms. Fritz said the dogs offer substantial emotional comfort to veterans, especially those who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. They are trained in “nightmare interruption;” if a veteran is suffering from a nightmare, his or her service dog will pull the sheets off the bed to force the person to wake up.

America’s Dog Vets is also working with Western Kentucky University to complete a rigorous scientific study on how service dogs help veterans with PTSD, a topic for which Ms. Fritz said there is already plenty of anecdotal evidence.

“Our primary objective is to make sure that our veterans begin to live their lives without boundaries again,” she said. “We want them to go back out and live independently and to have a life that we take for granted. We make sure that dog helps them live that.”

Photo caption: Benjamin the golden retriever accompanied Joseph Worley, an Iraq veteran, to the Veterans Day ceremony at Southold’s American Legion post. (Credit: Chris Lisinski); members of the Southold American Legion Ladies Auxiliary presented a $10,000 check to Joseph Worley — and his dog Benjamin — for America’s Dog Vets.

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