CHITTENANGO, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — It’s not uncommon these days to see a veteran with their trusty service dog right by them, and good chance the animal is from Clear Path for Veterans.
The Chittenango non-profit offers a wide variety of services to veterans in a 23-county area in Upstate New York. One of those services is the Canine Program.
Veteran AJ Moran recently shared with NewsChannel 9 just how his service dog impacted his life after leaving the military.
“No one ever talked about things like PTSD, traumatic brain injuries, what to expect, what it was like to be separated from what was like almost a family at that point,” Moran says.
After serving six years in the military, 2001-2007, including being deployed to Iraq, exiting the military was sudden and jarring.
“The years after we’re pretty dark,” he says. “I wasn’t living, I was just surviving, living in a house and I was pretty anti-social. I stopped doing a lot of things, I wasn’t going many places.”
After finally realizing he’s hit close to bottom, he turned to the VA for help and eventually that led him to Clear Path for Veterans in Chittenango.
Bill Smullen is the CEO at Clear Path and says, “Once they get that dog, it can change their lives forever. I’ve seen it. It works. It changes lives of people who have been in isolation who don’t want to interact with other human beings, but that dog suddenly brings them alive.”
“There’s truly no other canine program like the one we offer at Clear Path as far as I know nationally. We have multiple facets within our program that holistically take care of the veteran,” says Ryan Woodruff, Canine Program Director at Clear Path for Veterans.
One aspect of the Canine Program involves puppies, usually Labs, that come to Clear Path on a rotating basis at 8-weeks old. The training program usually takes about 18-months to make sure they’re ready for a career as a service dog, some don’t make it. For the vast majority that do they are then paired up with a veteran.
Woodruff tells NewsChannel 9, “What we found through research done at Syracuse University is that the training we do here is scientifically proven to reduce symptoms related to Post Traumatic Stress, improve quality of life, increase self-compassion.”
He should know well, before running the Canine Program he came to Clear Path and got paired up with Harley, a service dog the Marine Corps vet says changed his life.
“She taught me that I had a passion and a generally natural skill for handling dogs,” he says.
Harley has passed away and Ryan hasn’t gotten another dog, he’s actually gotten several as the person running the Clear Path Canine Program.
“Everyday the ability to come here and work with dogs and veterans that had gone through similar experiences to my own assists me as much as it assists them.”
Puppies are only part of the service dog program. Vets can bring in their own dog for training.
Smullen adds, “It is a commitment that we believe in, and it’s a commitment that we are going to continue and if we can just change lives in a way that helps them get through life we are making a difference in the lives of people in need.”
“They’re doing things that they haven’t done in between 10 and 15 years of their life since they transitioned out of the military,” Woodruff says.
For AJ Moran that means reconnecting with his three children.
“It’s great not to just be on the sidelines anymore that I can actually be in less pain to enjoy and do things and run around and chasing them,” he says.
Smullen is seeking an endowment that would allow Clear Path to have even more dogs in the program and in a more fulsome way for a long commitment.
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For more local news, follow Jeff Kulikowsky on Twitter @JeffNC9