Service dog gives veteran with PTSD new ‘leash’ on life

“An average of 22 veterans a day commit suicide, It’s a big number.”

McLean Raybon of Edna is a veteran who suffers with post-traumatic stress disorder. But his life was drastically changed when he was introduced to his service dog, Merrick.

“There for a few years, I shut off, I kind of stuck to myself,” he said. “Merrick has allowed me to go out in public more and do more things – little things like grocery shopping. And I was also able to host my own veterans’ event. I went from being scared of people to having over 500 people around at one time.

“Merrick’s helped me sleep at night. That was my weakness, stupid night terrors. He wakes me up as soon as I go in to it. He wakes me up and then I’m able to go back to sleep and I’m done with it, I don’t have another one. I’ve been getting more sleep and that makes me more productive during the day.”

Merrick and McLean were paired up by K9 For Warriors, a program that trains service dogs to help veterans that are struggling from PTSD. K9 For Warriors is a non-profit that is dedicated to turning shelter dogs into service dogs who help heal military veterans suffering from PTSD. Ninety percent of the dogs are shelter dogs, and the rest are donated by breeders.

Merrick is named after Merrick Dog Food and Treats, a company that has a partnership with K9 for Warriors. Since 2015,Merrick has provided all the food and treats for K9 For Warriors.

“Of our country’s 21.8 million veterans, one in five suffers from PTSD and struggle to return to civilian life,” said Shari Duval, president of K9s For Warriors. “Because of partners like Merrick, we’re able to give those warriors a chance to see the world again and build a life after combat, as well as, educate more people about the important role service dogs play in improving veterans’ lives.”

Merrick Backcountry Hero’s Banquet recipes started a new promotion on June 7 where it is donating $1 from every bag sold to go to service dog research.

“K9 For Warriors does research to pair you with your service dog.You’re not just getting a random dog. Merrick is set up for my height, my weight, my weaknesses, that’s his strong point,” Raybon said. “They sponsored him. I didn’t know anything about him, all I knew was I was getting a dog. Merrick went through 18 months of training, but it all depends on the dog. Some catch on faster than others. They do an initial training at the pound, and if they pass it, they come on to K9 For Warriors and train to become a service dog. Some of the dogs were training to be something like seeing eye dogs, but they just didn’t make it so they get brought on to be service dogs.”

Any veteran with PTSD or a traumatic brain injury is eligible for the K9 For Warriors program.

“They paid for my flight there and for room and board for the time that I was there,” Raybon said. “It’s not one of those things where you have to think that you don’t have enough money to do it. They take care of you. I was there for a month and we went to all these public places: Costco, restaurants, buses, trains; they had already trained him, but you have to train with the dogs.”

“At first I was skeptical. But after the third night, when he woke me up from a night terror, I was convinced” Raybon said. “And he can tell when I am nervous, he will start stepping on my foot and look up at me.”

Raybon said that he always takes Merrick with him, and some times people don’t even notice Merrick. Although he has rarely run into a problem taking Merrick anywhere, Merrick does have his own Service Dog License.

“Sometimes we will be at a restaurant, and Merrick will be asleep under the table and a waitress will come up and accidentally kick his paw, or step on him and they had never even realized he was there,” Raybon said. ” The ADA law says that people with service dogs are allowed to take them anywhere. One problem is people going online and buying service dog vests. You can’t just throw a vest on a dog and make it a service dog. People will take their dogs to an event and their dog will start jumping and barking at my dog, which makes him mad, and they’ll tell me that their dog is still in training. It makes me question if it is even a service dog.”

Raybon says that the biggest challenge that he faces when taking Merrick out in public is people wanting to pet Merrick.

“The reason you do not pet a Service Dog when he is in vest is because you can confuse him. Am I working, or am I a dog right now? That’s the whole reason behind the ‘Do Not Pet’ sign on his vest,” Raybon continued. “And he has a command, it’s called Make A Friend. If he’s in vest, and you want to pet him, I can say ‘make a friend’ and he will show you love, but he realizes that he is still working.”

“Merrick is part of the family, he is another kid.We have to leave all the doors opened at night because he will go in there and check on all the kids. Right after we go to sleep, we’ll hear him, he will go push the doors open, check on the kids and then come back.”

Any veteran suffering from PTSD or a brain injury that would like information on a service dog is encouraged to call K9 For Warriors at 904-686-1956. And, anyone wanting to donate, can buy various Merrick dog food and treats, or for more information, or for a direct donation, visit merrickpetcare.com/k9sforwarriors.

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