WACO, Texas — Dogs are man’s best friend, but for a veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or other mental health issues, that companionship can literally be a lifesaver.
One Waco nonprofit is on a mission to connect every veteran with a forever friend.
It all started in December 2018.
“I had been retired from the VA for about six months and couldn't do it anymore, I had to do something," said Alan White. "So I started this just to help friends doing obedience training for their dogs and word of mouth, and it just kept growing and growing.”
Two years later, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) asked Alan to help women going through its military sexual trauma (MST) treatment program.
“We found that they were really in big need of emotional support animals," Alan explained. "They didn't really need a service dog to perform tasks, but they did need that emotional support. And I ended up taking three dogs out of the shelter, training them, and then donated them to the women in the program.”
That's how Alan's nonprofit, WhiteHaven Canine, was born. His mission - to adopt local shelter dogs and train them to become free emotional support animals for veterans.
Research shows an emotional support animal can have a positive impact on a person's mental health, especially veterans.
But training an emotional support dog isn't cheap.
“It can cost anywhere from $400 to $1,000 per dog to train them," said Alan.
Last month, Congress passed the Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers (PAWS) Act. This gives the VA a grant program focused on connecting service dogs with eligible veterans suffering from PTSD.
“Why is it so important for veterans to have these emotional support dogs?” asked 25 News Reporter Sydney Isenberg.
“Right now, Sydney, 22 veterans a day are committing suicide, and if we can cut that number down by helping them have an emotional support animal or referring them to another agency that provides service dogs, that's what we want to do," Alan responded. "It's all about the veterans.”
For Alan, the mission is personal. He served 11 years in the military.
Without his dog Szva, Alan doesn't know where he'd be.
“Yeah... I know there have been times if I hadn't had Szva around, I might not be here right now," he said, choking back tears. "I have been on the edge myself, so I know how important she is to me.”
For many vets, PTSD has become an all too common part of their service. C.J. Condren knows the struggle well.
“When I first got back, I didn't know I was diagnosed with PTSD," he recalled. "So for about 10 years, you know, I just suffered with it. You know, we were trained to, you know, eat dirt and move on. For 10 years I abused alcohol pretty heavily. I wasn't what I'd call a white-knuckling alcoholic, but when I drank, I tried to drink everything. It caused problems in my marriage. It caused problems with me being a father to my kids.”
The Marine, now police officer, is one year sober and focused on training his new buddy, Moose.
While he hasn't had Moose long, Condren says the hound dog has already made a big impact.
“I come home and if I'm feeling anxious or depressed or angry, I sit on the couch and Moose just comes up and jumps in my lap and puts his bad, doggy breath in my face," he said. "And it has really started to bring down my blood pressure. My blood pressure, my heart rates dropped dramatically. I've actually started quitting dipping tobacco.”
“What does the future look like for you?” Isenberg asked.
“Oh man... I don't even know," Condren replied. "Mostly we're going to try to go hunting, we're going to work out, we're going to run. Man, I don't even know… there's so many possibilities at this point.”
At the end of the day, Alan's goal is to show fellow veterans that help is available from a four-legged friend.
“That's what veterans do," he said. "You’re a brotherhood, a sisterhood. But veterans know what other veterans go through. They can associate with it to where a civilian that's never been in the military might have no idea what they have been through with the trauma they’ve dealt with.”
Right now, Alan is raising money to build a training facility so he can train more dogs for veterans. If you would like to donate, click here.
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