Since September 11, the New Jersey National Guard mobilized 16,000 soldiers and airmen. Many of these service members return home only to be forgotten . One South Jersey non-profit is determined to change that.
At a glance, army veteran Tara Krause doesn’t appear to have suffered any wounds from her years of service . But Krause is suffering from a silent wound — post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
“I have PTSD due to military sexual trauma,” Krause said. “I take a fistful of pills in the morning and a fistful of pills in the evening and I still have nightmares, disassociation, panic attacks. It was very difficult to come down here and speak about this because there is a huge amount of shame and sigma attached to PTSD.”
The West Point graduate says she has built her life around avoiding the public until she learned about the Marlton-based non-profit Semper Fido , an organization dedicated to training and transforming rescue dogs into service dogs for veterans with PTSD.
“They go out and they risk their lives and they make sacrifices. Sometimes they just don’t receive the right rewards,” said Semper Fido Founder Lisa Berg. “But taking care of them afterwards and being able to help just a little bit, in my mind it just makes sense. It’s saving two lives with one stone.”
Husband and wife team Lisa and Brian Berg , both retired police officers, launched the program last year. It costs more than $10,000 to train each dog, but it’s free to all service members . The non-profit survives on donations and fundraisers.
“It’s very hard to put into words, but they are amazing animals and when you hear some of the stories that these guys go through, there’s nothing more important we’re going to do than this,” Semper Fido Training Director Brian Berg said.
Krause’s service dog hasn’t completed his training yet , but she and her family already notice the results .
“There is no magic cure for it, but, there might be the chance where we have the courage to dare to believe we could live a life worth living,” Krause said.
The dogs at Sempro Fido go through an extensive training process that lasts about six months. Three trainers dedicate 500 hours to the animals . They’re mostly shepherds, golden retrievers and labs.
The dogs learn all the basic service commands along with commands specialized for each service member.
Marine Corp. Veteran Joshua Hufty served three tours of duty in Iraq . He says his service dog Kane is more effective then any other treatment he’s received in the seven years he’s battled PTSD.
“The great thing about Kane is that he is a set of ears that no matter what I say to him, no matter how terrible the things I’ve done, the things I’ve seen, the things I’ve experienced truly were, he still loves me,” Hufty explained.
As for Krause, she’s waiting for Volpe to graduate from his training so she can finally take her new four-legged family member home .
Lauren Wanko files this report from Marlton.