Shadow, who was rescued from a shelter and trained as a service dog, will be paired with a Columbus veteran suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Funding for training is being sponsored by the 5K Barney’s Run for Warriors. (Special photo)
ALBANY — A day before he was scheduled to be euthanized, Camo, a then-1-year-old chocolate lab mix, was saved from an animal shelter. Camo has paid that timely rescue forward by helping a Lee County war veteran start to reclaim his life.
Larry Barfield’s return from Fallujah, Iraq, after a six-month active-duty deployment with the United States Navy, has been fraught with challenges. Diagnosed with severe Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Barfield had found it increasingly difficult to leave his home just north of Leesburg.
Camo has changed that.
“My life is like night and day now,” Barfield said. “Before I got Camo, I pretty much stayed in my house. Now that I’ve had time with him, I can go into a crowd of people and feel almost comfortable.
“I feel like Camo’s got my back.”
Camo was trained as a service dog and purchased for Barfield, who spent three weeks in Florida training with Camo, through proceeds from the first Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church Barney’s Run for Warriors. A second run, which will provide similar help for another South Georgia veteran, is scheduled for Jan. 11 at Marine Corps Logistics Base-Albany.
“We had a Saint Paul’s parishioner who started a memorial for pets, and over the years people donated to the memorial fund,” Lois Hunkele, a local veterinarian and one of the co-chairs of Barney’s Run, said. “After a while we had a pretty good sum of money, and we wanted to use the money in a way that would involve animals.”
Retired Saint Paul’s Deacon Jim Purks, whose admiration for military veterans over the years inspired a passion to help the country’s often forgotten warriors, wanted to reach out to the men and women who’d served their country. Hunkele, fellow vet and Barney’s Run co-chair Peggy Hawkins, marketing specialist Mary Newcomb and Purks pooled their passions and came up with the Barney’s Run for Warriors concept.
“We discovered the K9s for Warriors organization that trains and pairs service dogs with veterans,” Hunkele said. “It’s a unique organization, and one of the things we really like is that 95 percent of the dogs they train are animals rescued from shelters.”
With statistics showing one in every five veterans returning from active duty suffer some level of PTSD, and as many as one U.S. veteran every hour committing suicide, the need certainly exists.
Barfield acknowledges as much.
“I’m one of the lucky ones,” he said. “I’m working with a therapist and a psychiatrist, and I have hopes of one day living a pretty much normal life. There are veterans out there who don’t have the finances to get the help they need.”
While kicking around ideas for some type of ongoing fundraiser to help veterans in the region, another Saint Paul’s parishioner, Deerfield-Windsor School Headmaster Dave Davies, said he wanted to get the kids at the prep school involved.
“Their cross country coach, Cathy Jones, is just a whirlwind of a lady,” Purks said. “As soon as she got word that we were looking for a way to raise funds for our veterans, she said, ‘Let’s do a 5K run.’ And she and her kids on the cross country team just ran with it.”
Saint Paul’s Priest Father Lee Lowery made Barney’s Run the church’s signature ministry, and its event committee has worked to expand the run’s impact.
“This run (in January) is to help raise funds for a service dog who will be given to a veteran in Columbus who has asked to remain anonymous,” Hawkins said. “But we’re not looking to provide just a single service dog to a single veteran. PTSD is a huge problem, and we want to get the word out to as many veterans as possible that this service is available.”
Preregistration for the second Barney’s Run for Warriors is ongoing, and all runners who register by Dec. 19 will receive a long-sleeved T-shirt with their race package. Registration for the 9 a.m. run will be held from 8 a.m. to 8:45 a.m. on the day of the race. Registration fees for the event’s 5K run are $20 through Dec. 19, $25 from Dec. 21-Jan. 4 and $30 after the 4th.
A one-mile fun walk/run will be held in conjunction with the 5K event. Registration is $10.
Trophies will be awarded to the top 5K and one-mile finishers as well as the top male and female Masters level (over 40) and Grand Masters (over 50) runners. Medals will be awarded to the top three male and female runners in 16 age groups. A Best American Spirit School award will be given to the school with the most participants.
Registration is available online at http://www.stpaulsalbany.org or on a link at www.runningintheUSA.com. Registration forms are also available at Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church, Deerfield-Windsor, the YMCA, local gyms and the Wildside Running Store.
Event sponsorships are available by contacting Newcomb at (229) 881-5970 or online at firstname.lastname@example.org. Race sponsors already participating include U-Save-It Pharmacies, Women’s Health Professionals, Southwest Georgia Pathology, Moore, Clark, DuVall & Rodgers, Bush Animal Clinic, Advanced Rehab, Westover Animal Hospital, Flint Community Bank, Albany Vascular Specialist Center, Tony’s Westside Athletic Club, Gillespie Printers, Kelley, Lovett & Blakey, and Watson Spence, as well as a number of individuals.