The pill of choice for former Marine Kenny Bass is a four-legged German Shepherd named Atlas.
Suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after a tour in Iraq, Bass, 33, was taking 30 pills a day and seeing a counselor three times a week.
"I spent most of my time in the garage, and it was a struggle to not want to kill myself," Bass said. "I felt no value and that I was a burden. I wondered if the world would be a better place without me.
"I decided I can't continue this path. I knew that couldn't go on for long. I needed to get off the pills."
Bass said he was matched with a service dog, and although he was 100 percent disabled by a roadside bomb in 2003, he had to spend $15,000 for Atlas.
Now instead of swallowing pills, Bass carries a dog leash and has a trained constant companion.
"The dog can tell when I am in a bad space," he said. "He comes over and drops a ball in my lap or nudges my hand, and before I know it I am out throwing him a ball."
Bass said Atlas wakes him during nightmares and will sit close when Bass is anxious about being in a crowd. Some service dogs are trained to assist wounded veterans walk or retrieve items they drop or can't pick-up. Some can even remove a vet's socks.
Sold on the value of service dogs, Bass and a small group of friends began their own foundation to find and train dogs and match them with veterans who need them.
The Battle Buddy Foundation, based in Cincinnati, Ohio, was incorporated in 2013 andgranted nonprofit status by the Internal Revenue Service in July.
And while there are an estimated 12 to 20 similar programs, Battle Buddy Foundation is the only program to provide service dogs to military veterans at no cost, Bass said.
Now they are working with The Dog Zone in Battle Creek, a training and grooming facility at 544 Wa Wee Nork Drive.
Growing gradually, Battle Buddy Foundation has trained eight dogs but has 5,000 contacts from veterans interested in the program. The foundation is supported by donations and Bass said he and his other co-founders are seeking corporation support.
Finding and training a service dog costs $15,000 to $25,000, he said, and the training continues even after the dogs are matched to veterans.
As part of the new agreement with the Dog Zone, Sarah Rodenhaver and her staff will provide the foundation or basic training for the dogs and then help them transfer from trainers to their veterans.
"We will have them six to eight months and do as much training as possible," she said, knowing some of the requirements of the veteran.
She said a Ranger, a black Labrador being trained now, will be paired with a veteran who needs a dog to retrieve items for him and is willing to stay calm because the vet does not have many hobbies but is comfortable at a recreational gun range.
"We are adding things and we tailor the dog to the veteran's needs," she said.
During a presentation last week to the Harper Creek Optimist Club and later in an interview with the Battle Creek Enquirer, Bass said his organization also works to educate the public, including businesses, about service dogs, which by law must be admitted to any public place.
They also tell veterans that a dog will not cure all their ailments.
"It's not a band aid or a silver bullet," Bass said. "You still have to work on yourself. The dog is not a magic pill but it is a tool to help you get over some of those bumps."
But the dog, unlike humans, doesn't care that the veteran suffers from a flashback or symptoms of PTSD.
"People remember when you went off and screamed at them, but for the dog it doesn't matter and they don't care," Bass said. "They are unconditional and you don't have the guilt you might suffer with a human. He and I have a relationship different than I have with my wife or with friends."
Crissy Faulkner, director of events and volunteers for Battle Buddy and the wife of a veteran, said sending people to war breaks them, yet the country is not always willing to help fix those injuries.
"We owe it to them to help them get as close to functioning in society as best they can," Faulkner said.
Bass said 22 veterans commit suicide every day — one every 65 minutes.
"There is a high suicide rate and I was almost one myself," he said. "But I am now in a better place."
Call Trace Christenson at 966-0685. Follow him on Twitter: @TSChristenson.
The Battle Buddy Foundation's stated mission is to "ensure that Veterans and their families receive programs and services that will help them acclimate back to family and civilian life." It's three-point strategy is to:
•Provide trained psychiatric and mobility service dogs and therapy dogs to veterans at no cost.
•Connect veterans to employment and housing opportunities
•Building a community of peer support for veterans and their families.
For more information about the organization and efforts in Battle Creek, visit these websites:
•The Battle Buddy Foundation: www.tbbf.org
•The Dog Zone: www.bcdogzone.com