“Did you know,” asks Miami Phillips, “that since 1999 over 130,000 veterans have taken their own lives? That is just a terrible fact and we have to do something about it.”
The Center for Disease Control reports that the veterans’ suicides are at a rate of 22 per day (2012). Post-Traumatic Stress, Traumatic Brain Injuries, Military Sexual Trauma and wounds all take a huge toll on our military service men and women.
That’s why Phillips, his wife Shelly, their son Ryan, and a three-year-old black Labrador/Australian Shepard service dog named Goose, crew YUME to promote awareness about, and raise money to help veterans, active duty military personnel, and military dependents who live with crippling, life-changing issues.
The Phillips’ focus on paws4vets (www.paws4vets.org), an organization that is part of the nonprofit foundation paws4people. Their initiative, paws4vets.org works on behalf of those afflicted by post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injuries, and wounds received while in the service that can benefit by having a service dog by their side.
All three family members work from YUME all year doing what they can to help. Last year their efforts in Washington, DC were instrumental in raising over $342,000 as part of the federal government employees’ pledges to the Combined Federal Campaign. Much of this money goes to finding and training dogs to become service dogs and then matching them with veterans in need. “We have all read about the incredible success that service dogs can have on an individual suffering from all kinds of life-threatening issues. A service dog seems to bring a change in focus to many who face panic, disorientation, fear, and pain on a daily basis.” Pets4vets.org works with three prisons in West Virginia who do the dog training thereby helping two people in need with one dog said Miami.
“We leave Marathon in the Florida Keys around April each year and slowly make our way north.
Our goal on the way north is to talk to anyone who will listen about the issues facing these veterans. We visit American Legion, VFW and DAV posts, as well as anywhere we are invited,” Shelly says. “The favorite speaker at these events is always Goose, our medical alert service dog, as he is trained to interrupt panic attacks, wake you up from nightmares, help you get dressed and undressed and help find lost items.”
Goose is one of hundreds of dogs trained and certified as assistance dogs by paws4people.org. The organization, founded in 1999, works diligently to offer the highest standards in training as well as engaging in the challenging process of reaching out and helping those at high risk for suicide.
After two intense years of training, Goose responds to over 100 commands, from basic obedience instructions to highly sophisticated ones such as the “Anchor” command — he turns around to actually sit on a standing person’s feet, snuggling into their legs with his back. This maneuver places the dog in such a position that someone feeling overwhelmed with panic, fear, anger (or any other negative emotion) must pay attention to the dog. By thereafter sharing the emotion, its harmful damage is lessened or eliminated.
Their next big goal is here in Beaufort, to raise more money and awareness with a golf fundraiser May 20 at the Legends of Parris Island Golf Course followed by a fun-filled family/dog scavenger hunt through downtown Beaufort businesses Saturday morning May 21.
“Our goal in coming to Beaufort is to hold several events to raise awareness of the terrible issue of suicide among the veteran population in a community that understands the issue better than most” reflected Miami. Besides the golf tournament, Paws4vets.org will run a scavenger hunt in downtown Beaufort on Saturday morning, May 21st for anyone who likes to play games with their dogs. Local merchants have already agreed to welcome game participants along with their 4-legged friends as part of the event.
YUME and her crew were anchored off Waterfront Park for a week in mid-December talking to as many people as possible laying the groundwork for the May 2016 events. Shelly says “Since we were married in Hilton Head Island 30 years ago we are very familiar with and love this area so it is a joy to be here!”
Their plan is to head to Marathon FL for a winter break, then sail back to Beaufort in early March for intensive planning and organization to ensure successful events. Anyone interested in sponsoring, playing golf, joining in the dog scavenger hunt or volunteering is encouraged to reach out and let them know at www.paws4people.org/blog/register.