One of the things that surprises even the staff at patriot paws is the number of veterans who no longer leave home because of debilitating anxiety from their time in the military.
Service dogs are able to help keep stress levels down as well as give veterans no choice but to get up and let their dog outside. That's something U.S. Navy veteran Ricky Smiddy learned for himself.
Ricky Smiddy served during the Vietnam War. When he returned home he was overwhelmed by anxiety which made it difficult for him to lead a normal life.
“I just got in a hole and I dug it a little deeper, dug it a little deeper and didn't want to come out,” said Smiddy.
For the last several years, Ricky found some solace in group therapy at the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs. It was enough to convince him to climb out of the darkness.
“I have been out, thanks to my doctors, for a little while now and I refuse to go back in that hole,” Smiddy said.
Ricky's anxiety was amplified when he lost one of his best friends, a German shepherd who he spent every day with.
“When he passed away, I told my wife, I said I have no reason to go outside and I just stay in the house. There was no reason to go out there because [my dog] wasn't there,” said Smiddy.
Then Ricky's doctor suggested getting a service dog to help him deal with his stress and Ricky visited Patriot PAWS to see if it was the right fit.
“When their dog Jazz came through the door and by the table and lay by my feet, I felt like I was home. I felt accepted,” Smiddy said.
The idea that he would have a new best friend gave Ricky the hope he needed to face the world.
“With my dog, I think it will reinforce me wanting to get out in life in public,” said Smiddy.
Ricky trained with all the available dogs at the organization for five days before learning he would take home a black Labrador retriever named Wilson.
“He's been my favorite from day one and I was hoping and hoping and praying and when Lori told me Mr. Wilson, it can't get any better than that,” Smiddy said.
The moment was extra special for Karen Kerekes, a volunteer who helped raise Wilson when he was a puppy. Kerekes had no idea that Wilson would be matched that day.
“He was just meant to be with Ricky,” Kerekes said.
“I'm so thrilled and I'm so blessed and I will be the best friend Wilson’s ever had,” said Smiddy.
When the time came for Ricky and Wilson to graduate the navy veteran already knew his life would never be the same because his faith in Wilson is stronger than his fear.
“Ricky stole the heart of all of our staff members. There's more smiles on the second row than ever when Ricky comes around because there wasn't a smile from Ricky for a long time,” said Patriot PAWS founder Lori Stevens.
“Now I'll have a reason to get up in the morning,” said Smiddy.
To volunteer, donate, apply for a dog or learn more about the organization visit www.patriotpaws.org.