By RYAN KING
CAPE RAY – Tom Anderson is a military veteran who received a medical discharge from injuries sustained after he drove over a landmine in 1994. Anderson lost both legs below the knee, sustained fractures to his hand, and shrapnel damaged his left eye. As former infantry soldier, he is compelled to dedicate his time to helping fellow veterans when they return home by raising funds for organizations that provide them with service dogs.
“A couple of years back, I was diagnosed with bowel cancer, and I started growing this big shaggy beard, and a lot of people suggested I do a fundraiser for cancer,” shared Anderson. “I thought it over, and I said, ‘You know what, this would be a good idea to do a fundraiser, but I’m not going to do it for cancer.’ Now, don’t get me wrong, if somebody from the cancer society came knocking on my door seven days a week, I would still donate to them, because while I was in St. John’s the staff down at the hospital cancer treatment in St. John’s, I mean, they treated me like a king. So, anyway, I said I’m going to do it for a different cause, and I said I want to do it for veterans. So, I said I’m going to make a fundraiser to raise awareness for PTSD and for service dogs.”
Looking to shave off his beard for the cause, in a matter of eight weeks he raised $25,000, which covered the cost for Wounded Warriors, a national mental health services provider, to train a service dog to assist a veteran.
“I shared it on social media and I was involved with, and still am involved with, a lot of military groups on Facebook. So, I shared it with one of the groups I’m involved with,” said Anderson. “I got a lot of buddies right across Canada everywhere, and all my friends shared it, and it just took off from there.”
Thanks to that effective and large-scale social media traction, Anderson’s name reached Cindy Weir, who started the non-profit Veteran’s Elite Canines, an organization that helps veterans get a service dog.
“She wanted me to come on board and sit on the board of directors. So basically, I’m the Newfoundland rep for all of Newfoundland and Labrador. So any veteran on the island of Newfoundland and Labrador that is in dire need of a service dog, my responsibility is making sure that the service is transported from point-A to point-B, to the veteran on the island. And this involves some fundraising to raise some money, because this is obviously a non-profit organization. So, I kindly accepted and I’m very honored,” Anderson said.
He is well aware of the benefits that a service dog can provide after witnessing firsthand the impact a canine companion had on Anderson’s friend and fellow veteran, Mike Rube, who was battling severe PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).
“I came to know Mr. (Sergeant) Mike Rude a couple years back, and we became very good friends, and kept in touch, and every time he comes to Newfoundland – and he always mostly stays at my place for a day or two – with his service dog, Spark. And it’s just amazing to see these dogs be working. I mean, when these service dogs got their vest on, saying that they are service dog, I mean, that dog is working,” explained Anderson. “I know my buddy Mike Rude told me if he never had a service dog, he said he would not be here today. So, they do provide a very important service to our Canadian veterans.”
The cost of getting a service dog can be upwards of $25,000, and the wait time for a dog can be quite lengthy simply due to the nature of the training involved.
“It could be a very long waiting list, for the simple reason being that these dogs go through a lot of vigorous field training. It could take up to a couple of years to train just one dog. And once the dog is paired with their veteran, the veteran also has to go down to the United States to do training with the dog, and get to know the dog, and how the dog reacts to that veteran. So, it’s two-way thing,” said Anderson. “But, with this organization now, and a lot of organizations, they’re trying to get it set up now that when a veteran gets paired with a service dog, they can stay in Canada.”
Anderson believes that while non-profits like Veteran’s Elite Canines are working to get veterans service dogs, the federal government needs to step up and take a role in overhauling the regulations involved with these animals.
“Every province needs to have the same set of rules and regulations put in place as the next province. So it needs to be a national standard right across the board, and because there are different regulations in each province. I know my friend, Mike Rude, he was asked to leave the Valley Mall in Corner Brook, Newfoundland, even though he got a service dog. The service dog is legit, and he had the papers all there with the service dog, but security still asked him to leave the premises with his dog, which is not right,” said Anderson.
As services dogs are key to getting veterans out into the world again following their trauma, Anderson says it’s crucial for them to have access while accompanied by their animals.
“When I had my accident 27 years ago, PTSD was not a word that you heard very much because in the military, especially me as an infantry soldier. If you went to see a doctor or tell your boss, or the higher ups in the military, that you got PTSD, we’re supposed to be big macho army guys. Because sometimes you uphold the figure, like a Rambo figure, like ‘Go on, you don’t got PTSD, you’re alright.’ But I know soldiers that came back from Croatia, Afghanistan, 20-30 plus of service, big grown men, they got PTSD, and they will stay in the house for months and months at a time. Will not go outdoors because they don’t like crowds of people, they won’t associate with the public no more, and they’ve got very high anxiety. But when a soldier gets paired with a service dog, he feels more relaxed with the dog, and that dog will help that veteran to get back into the public and go out into the malls and stuff – a very important thing. And these dogs are saving lives,” insists Anderson.
The $25,000 raised for Wounded Warriors for a service dog will be finalized soon, and the animal will be presented to another veteran from Newfoundland and Labrador. Anderson will soon travel to Ontario in the first week of September to present the first service dog from Veteran’s Elite Canines. The dog will be given to a fellow Newfoundlander, a former combat engineer in Grand Falls.
“It’s going to be a big major thing,” said Anderson.
To donate to Veteran’s Elite Canines and help a veteran get a service animal, go online to: veteranselitecanines.ca and click on the donate button.
Says Anderson, “Whether it’s five dollars, or five hundred dollars, or two cents, any amount of money counts, and it’s going to a good cause.”