ROCHESTER, Mich. (WJBK) - It's no secret we are losing our military veterans at an alarming rate to suicide, so a nonprofit organization is working to save the lives of our heroes with the help of some furry friends.
Marine veteran Eric Calley is one of those heroes, who unfortunately knew what it's like to live with the hidden demon that is post-traumatic stress disorder.
"I was having nightmares; I couldn't sleep. I was alcoholic; I drank everyday," he says. "A lot of us come back and we don't know how to relate to society."
And many don't live to tell their stories. The numbers are staggering when it comes to men and women who fought for our freedom taking their own lives.
"We are losing 22 veterans a day to suicide - and that's only with six states that are reporting," says Jolanthe Bassett.
But there's a bright light at the end of the tunnel -- man's best friend. That's where Jolanthe comes in with Guardian Angels Medical Service Dogs.
"We've paired over 150 dogs since 2010, and in that time we haven't had one suicide attempt," she says. She volunteers with Guardian Angels Medical Service Dogs and worked to find Eric his current partner, Sun, after his first dog died tragically.
"She was a lifesaver for me. When she had the accident and died all of a sudden, January 29 of two years ago, my whole life went downhill," Eric says about his first dog.
After Jolanthe introduced Eric to Sun, he was once again able to start to gain control of his life.
"She helps me be a better father, a better person in general. She helps me go out in public. She helps me talk to you," Eric says.
"It allows our veteran to have some more freedom and feel safer and to give them a better new normal," Jolanthe says of the service dogs.
Training a medical service dog is not cheap. Jolanthe says if you were to put a price tag on it, it would be upwards of $25,000. Guardian Angels never charges a dime.
They rely 100 percent on donations to pair veterans with these priceless pooches for free.
Students from Musson Elementary helped offset the cost of training Sun, and raised thousands of dollars in a penny drive.
"Musson Elementary came together and they were one of the first ones to start the process of doing the penny wars, and these penny wars are so vital to not only teaching the education to the children but it's also giving them a part to join in the community and help with the support of our veterans coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan," says Eric.
Laura Cassar's children took part in the penny drive at Musson along with Jolanthe's. Afterwards, they came up with the idea to write a children's book about service dogs and the amazing work they do.
The book "Ranger: A PTSD Service Dog" was released on Veteran's Day, with all of the proceeds going to Guardian Angels.
"The interesting story about this book is that it's not just one true story but every element is true. So, all these different veterans and the way their lives were changed are rolled into the book."
If you'd like to purchase a copy of their book, you can do so on Amazon.com.
You can also get more information on Guardian Angels Medical Service Dogs at www.medicalservicedogs.org.