Barney's Run Saving Lives

By Brad McEwen

When Navy construction mechanic Larry Barfield finished his last tour in Iraq roughly 11 years ago, he returned to his Southwest Georgia home a much different man than the one who had left to proudly serve his country.

Gone was the confident and outgoing Larry that his wife Pam and the rest of the family had always known and in his place was yet another veteran struggling with the very real effects of post-traumatic stress disorder.

According to the Barfields, Larry’s PTSD was so severe that he struggled with a variety of issues—including depression, memory loss and anger—that essentially kept him home-bound and unable to lead a normal life.

But thankfully, with the arrival of Camo, a service dog provided to the Barfield family through St. Paul’s Episcopal Church’s Barney’s Run for Warriors, things have drastically improved for the Leesburg family.

“Larry never went anywhere,” said local veterinarian and Barney’s Run co-chair Lois Hunkele. “He was home bound. He didn’t want to get out in a crowd.

“Since then he’s been on television interviews, he can go to schools. He still has some issues, but he can go into a mall, go out somewhere to eat, all kinds of things.”

The Barfield’s Godsend, Camo, was the first service dog the Barney’s Run charity was able to have trained and placed with a veteran, following the inaugural run the charity hosted in 2013. And since that time, the event has generated enough funds to provide service dogs to 7 additional area veterans dealing with a variety of disabilities.

“It’s very exciting,” Lois said of what Barney’s Run has been able to accomplish since its start six years ago. “As a veterinarian I know the partnership and the bond between humans and their pets, no matter what kind of pets you have, is special. We see the devastation when a person loses a pet and how much a pet can save somebody’s life.

“They’re just saving life, in both directions. We’ve seen that. So this is awesome for us to know we’re helping a veteran this way.”

This Saturday, runners and supporters will once again have an opportunity to help a veteran receive a service dog when this year’s Barney’s Run gets underway at its traditional Marine Corps Logistics Base home.

Lois said that this year organizers are hoping to see even more than the 200 runners that participated in last year’s run, which over the past few years has grown to include a one mile fun run, a 5k, a 10K, a half marathon and a United States Track and Field certified full marathon.

“We started out with around 100 runners,” Lois said. “I think last year we had around 200 and I hope we have 250 this year.

“Last year was our first year of having a marathon. We haven’t been at this long, but it’s gone very well.

“The Barney’s committee, we’re pretty small. There’s about seven or eight of us, then we have 16 Marine Corps volunteers and for registration I think we’ve got approximately 20 more. Barney’s Run is our baby.”

That baby was first conceived, Lois said, roughly six years ago, when it grew out of St. Paul’s Barney’s Corner, a location in the church’s courtyard where the pets of parishioners are memorialized.

“St. Paul’s has Barney’s Corner,” Lois explained. “We have a service once or twice a year that commemorates and memorializes the scattering of the ashes of pets. Well, people started sending memorials in and all of sudden we had a few thousand dollars that we needed to do something with. And we wanted to help pets in some way or do something with animals of course.

“Then (recently deceased retired Episcopal deacon and Barney’s Run champion) Jim Purks was on our committee and he was always sending me newspaper articles about veterans and those affected with PTSD and coming home with the invisible signs of war.

“So we came up with Barney’s Run after Barney’s Corner in 2013 and we’ve had them every year.”

Lois said the proceeds from the run go to an organization in Ponte Vedra, Florida called K9s for Warriors, which trains service dogs to be placed with veterans suffering from PTSD or other disabilities.

“They’re one of the best training shelters out there,” Lois said of K9s for Warriors. “They have eight different parameters for charities and working with veterans and service dogs. K9s for Warriors actually started when a woman’s son came back from two tours and he had such severe PTSD that he was nearly suicidal. Then he was given a service dog and after that service dog saved his life, the son and the mom got together and started K9s for Warriors.”

In founding the company, Lois said, the mother and son (who during his time in the service trained rescue and bomb dogs) not only created an avenue to help veterans, but also started a program that helps to rescue dogs from shelters.

“They started going to shelters, getting dogs out, and getting them trained,” Lois said. “Ninety-five percent of the service dogs are actually shelter dogs.

“Our very first dog, Camo, was one day away from being put to sleep in a shelter. That’s when the original veteran who trains the dogs found him and thought he’d be a very good service dog because he’s a lab cross. So he saved the dog.

“So supporting Barney’s Run saves two lives, the dog and the veteran.”

Lois said, once they are rescued, the dogs are brought to the K9s for Warriors facility in Florida where they will ultimately spend a week to 10 days with the veteran they are being paired with so the two can bond.

Ultimately, she said, it takes about $16,000 to obtain and train the dogs and get them paired with their veteran and Lois said she’s been thrilled that the Run has generated enough money the last couple of years to pair more than one dog with veterans in need.

“The VA [Veteran’s Administration] does not recognize service dogs as part of the treatment for soldiers coming back with PTSD,” Lois said. “So pretty much they have to go through a charity organization to get these dogs and these dogs are free to the veterans. The veterans never have to pay a dime for anything (other than the standard food and medicine expenses that come with pet ownership), but they do depend on people making donations for them to supply and train the dogs.”

Although she hopes the VA will one day recognize the healing power of service dogs, Lois said she’s more concerned with the general public understanding how important these animals are when it comes to properly taking care of our veterans following their service.

“The service dogs help alleviate nightmares, anger, suicidal thoughts, things like that,” she said. “And they’re about 100 percent efficient in keeping these veterans from committing suicide. And there’s about 22 veteran suicides a day in this country.

“Most of the veterans who go down to K9s for Warriors to be paired with a service dog are on 10 to 14 medications per day. Ninety-two percent of those veterans after being paired with a dog for a few months are either able to come off or reduce that type of medication significantly.

“And they’re able to get back in society because a lot of them even isolate themselves from their own families.

“These service dogs just make a huge difference. It’s amazing.”

Even with the race just a few days away, Lois said it’s not too late for folks to get involved with Barney’s Run. Anyone wanting to register to run on Saturday has until Thursday to register online through active.com. Folks can also register at Wild Side Running through Friday or they can register at the run the day of.

The cost to run the marathon is $95, the half marathon is $50, the 10K is $35, the 5K is $30 and the one mile fun run is $20. All proceeds got to K9s for Warriors.

Individuals who are not able to run this weekend, but who would like to support the cause can also send donations to Barney’s Run, c/o St. Paul’s, P.O. Box 70111 Albany, GA 31708.

On the day of the run, Lois said, participants can also enjoy some family fun, fellowship and refreshments. There will be a food stand on site and Pretoria Fields will be also be there serving some of their local brews. There will also be door prizes and representatives from the Albany Museum of Art will be at the run doing fun activities with kids.

Additionally, Camo and another service dog will also be in attendance.

The Jim Purks Memorial Marathon and the half marathon start at 7:30 a.m. Saturday and the other runs start at 9 a.m. Registration will begin at 6:45 a.m.

“It will be a lot of fun,” Lois said. “There’s usually lots of families and children and everyone enjoys themselves. We’re going to have a good time for a good cause.”

To learn more about Barney’s Run contact the St. Paul’s office at 229.436.0196 or visit the Barney’s Run for Warriors Facebook page. To learn more about K9s for Warriors visit K9sforWarriors.org.

Connect with Brad – 229.405.7212 - brad.mcewen@abtgold.com - @BradGMcEwen 

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