NC has one of the largest veteran populations in the nation. And veterans often suffer from a mental health and physical health issues. Dr. Terry Morris from Vets to Vets United is helping with rescue dogs.
“Tank” is an appropriate name for the dog sitting beside Vietnam veteran Bill Dixon who lives in Wake County with his family.
“You take that vest off and he’s just like any other dog.”
The vest he’s talking about is red and easily recognizable, because the stocky Rottweiler laying at his companion’s feet isn’t just like any other dog.
Tank is a service animal specially trained in the North Carolina-based Vets to Vets United program– a nonprofit that connects veterans in the Triangle with rescue animals and free veterinary care.
Like all the veterans and dogs that pass through the program, Dixon and Tank completed the two-year training, where they learned to work together to combat Dixon’s depression and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
“He has total loyalty and love to me and I have total love and loyalty to him,” says Dixon. “We know we got each other’s back. I don’t go anywhere without him. He won’t let me.”
They are an unbreakable team, and Dixon credits Dr. Terry Morris, the organization’s founder and executive director, with how Tank’s presence has changed his life.
Tired of Petri Dishes
Morris is native to Durham, North Carolina, and in 2012, she founded Vets to Vets United after coming to a crossroad in her career.
Morris completed veterinary school but spent the majority of her career in microbiology research, and after 20 years she was burnt out.
“I didn’t want to see another piece of DNA, or cell, or petri dish,” she said. “I asked God to give me something where I could make an impact on and help our society.”
Morris, who loves animals but didn’t want to work in a veterinary clinic, is also a Gold Star Daughter who is passionate about veterans who suffer from physical or emotional disabilities. In 2012 she was particularly alarmed at national veteran suicide statistics and the high euthanasia rates in North Carolina’s animal shelters.
The 2022 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Report from the Department of Veterans Affairs reported that 6,146 veterans committed suicide in 2020, a staggeringly high average of 16.8 deaths per day.
The report dates back to 2001 when there were 6,001 veteran deaths due to suicide, a number that rose to 6,796 in 2018.
“No One With More Passion”
Since she started Vets to Vets United, Morris has spent her weekdays leading service animal training courses for veterans, and her weekends spreading the word about veteran resources. When veterans enroll in the program, they agree to attend weekly training sessions for two years and to help train future veterans and their companions.
North Carolina has the third largest military presence of any state in the US and the fifth largest veteran population. According to USA Facts, 7.5% of North Carolina’s adult civilian population are veterans, and 29.5% of them have a disability.
Dixon, who is both a graduate of the program and the president of the board of directors, is adamant that “there’s nobody more passionate about this organization or any organization than Dr. Terry Morris.”
And to ensure veterans can concentrate on training with their companions, Vets to Vets provides everything their dogs need, including harnesses, food supplements, and covers vet bills.
“We don’t want them to worry financially about having a service dog,” says Morris. “They’ve already sacrificed enough, now it’s our turn to give back to them.”
[Vets to Vets United invites any veteran who is “lonely, suffering from depression, or who has been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), or physical disability,” to apply for the program.]
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