AYDEN – Army medic Ryan Russell died in 2007 while aiding wounded soldiers in Iraq.
Now his namesake will spend his life helping a former medic heal from the psychic wounds he suffered in Iraq.
Doc Russell, an 11-month-old golden retriever, is a psychiatric service dog. Doc lives with Ray Kirby, a Lexington man who served in Iraq in 2003. Doc stays at Kirby’s side, nuzzling him when Kirby starts suffering anxiety attacks, barking and licking his hand when nightmares take over Kirby’s sleep. Doc’s job is to give Kirby a sense of peace and normalcy.
“He has given me a whole new outlook on life,” Kirby said.
Doc was given to Kirby by Patriot Rovers, a High Point-based organization that trains rescued golden retrievers to work with servicemen and women living with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Doc, Kirby and Patriot Rovers founder David Cantara traveled to Ayden to accept a donation of about 200 pounds of toys, dog food and treats from Give2TheTroops, an organization that sends supplies to troops. They also met with Kathy Moore, Ryan Russell’s mother.
“We appreciate all the support we can receive,” Cantara, a dog trainer, said.
Since Patriot Rovers was formed in 2009 the organization has placed 36 dogs with service members in seven states.
Cantara likes to name the dogs after service members who died, if the individual’s family agrees.
Moore, a longtime supporter of Give2TheTroops, met Cantara through another woman whose child died in combat. He eventually asked if he could use Ryan’s name.
“To me, Ryan isn’t a dog name,” Moore said. “But because Ryan was known as Doc, it’s the name they give medics, it seemed a fitting name.”
While Kirby, Moore and Cantara talked with reporters, Doc stretched out at his master’s feet, eyes partially closed.
“My son, this is how he was. He was just a laid-back kid,” Moore said.
Kirby has suffered years from panic and anxiety attacks.
“I would go from happy and smiling to just rage and blowing up,” Kirby said. His marriage dissolved. His 9-year-old daughter was afraid to ask him for help with her homework because he would lose his temper.
Kirby is still on good terms with his ex-wife. She’s told him that in the three months since Doc moved in, she already has seen an improvement in his moods.
“This is a whole, full circle, a win-win,” Moore said. “Dogs are rescued, wounded warriors are rescued, and our families (of deceased soldiers) can move forward.”
Cantara, who is a U.S. Army veteran, is a member of Patriots Guard Riders, a national group of motorcycle riders who serve as escorts at military funerals.
He has attended about 200 funerals, several for military members who committed suicide after returning home.
“It was very difficult to be with a family whose loved one returned home only to be lost at a later time,” Cantara said.
Cantara said he has lost family and friends to suicide. He also experienced the death of a child and his father. His dogs always brought him great comfort during those times.
Dogs often are used in various therapeutic settings so it made sense they could assist service members living with post-traumatic stress, he said.
Kirby is one example of how Patriot Rovers are making a difference.
“These three months have probably been the best in the last three years,” Kirby said.
There are about 30 soldiers waiting for dogs, Cantara said. A lack of funding slows down the training process, which takes eight to 10 months, he said.
It costs about $6,350 to train a service dog, Cantara said. The cost includes spaying or neutering, medical care and supplying the dog’s new owner with a year’s support of dog food, a crate, a year’s supply of flea medicine, and 40 hours of training with the owner and dog.