Veterans get help from four-legged friends

  • Veteran's Gary Carruth, left, with Bria and Steve Roberts with Xander after being presented with their dogs during the Bergin University of Canine Studies graduation and presentation of assistance dog teams held at Lawrence Jones MIddle School in Rohnert Park, Saturday, Dec. 15, 2012.

Gary Carruth sought out the Bergin University of Canine Studies in Rohnert Park after his life since the war had begun to close in on him.

The former U.S. Marine, who said he pulled two tours of duty in Iraq, described his life in San Antonio, Tex., as that of a virtual shut-in.

Asked why he wanted to get a service dog, Carruth replied dryly, "to get me off my butt."

Carruth was one of three veterans to receive canine companions Saturday during the university's winter commencement at Lawrence Jones Middle School.

Part of the university's mission is to provide trained dogs to military veterans who are struggling with physical or emotional injuries related to their service.

Carruth said he medically retired from the Marines last year after he achieved the rank of gunnery sergeant. He said he has nerve damage and other lasting injuries as a result of blasts from improvised explosive devices.

He said he also suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder that makes him nervous around large groups of people. That much was evident on Saturday as he stood on stage with his hands stuffed in his blue jeans.

His mood visibly brightened when he took Bria's leash from a woman who helped raise the black Labrador Retriever as a volunteer with Bergin.

The university was founded by Bonita Bergin, who was present at Saturday's ceremony. According to staff, the Labath Avenue institution is the only one in the world to offer accredited degrees in canine studies and assistance dog education.

The non-profit university relies on donations for its operating budget, which last fiscal year was about $900,000, said Becca Richardson, the school's director of development.

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