Leashes of Valor recently hosted veteran service members at Patriot Point for a 10-day retreat welcoming new Warrior-Canine teams into its program.
Aaron, an Air Force veteran who deployed seven times to Iraq and Afghanistan and now is a teacher in North Carolina, graduated with his service dog, Gordy. Brian, a Navy veteran from Virginia Beach, graduated with his service dog, Colt.
“Patriot Point plays an integral role in the success of our Warrior-Canine classes,” said Leashes of Valor CEO Jason Haag, who is a retired Marine. “For 10 days, veterans learn to incorporate a service dog into their lives in the hope of returning to a more full and fulfilling life. This is not an easy process. For some, it means facing fears they have spent years avoiding. But waking up each day at Patriot Point in the quiet and solitude this beautiful property provides can make all the difference for our warriors. It’s also a safe, private space to unwind each evening after a rigorous day of training with a service dog. It is truly healing.”
Aaron has Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. He was stationed at the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, when a plane crashed into the building and sustained a concussion. While on deployment, he regularly heard gunshots whizzing by and later developed bad dreams and nightmares.
“I had social anxiety which turned into mild agoraphobia and hypervigilance,” Aaron said. “I would love to go in and grab groceries or buy a new shirt. But there’s never enough exits. There’s never any type of control for that environment. It overwhelms you.
“A therapist recommended looking into a service dog. Then I met Richard, a Leashes of Valor warrior with similar issues. If not for Richard, I wouldn’t have pursued it. I really owe everything to him. When I got here and met Gordy, everything was moving fast. You think, ‘You’re not ready for this.’ But that’s what you’re here for. Having someone like Gordy who is trained to look for certain things without me ever knowing it, has been 100 percent invaluable. After a few days of training, that team concept really clicked. We’re one unit moving together.”