GUILFORD COUNTY, N.C. -- At Patriot Rovers, three golden retriever puppies are running across a large enclosed area. The young dogs are having fun, but owner David Cantara said the pups will soon begin a serious mission.
"Our goal is to provide a lifeline to these veterans and get them out of their headspace that they are in and help them cope with the aftermath of combat deployments," Cantara said.
It takes a little over a year to train golden retrievers to recognize and help veterans manage stress and other disorders. Cantara added that the service dogs can even help vets keep up with their medication.
"His dog was trained to remind him when it is time to take his medicine. Once the veteran takes that medicine, he won't go back to take that medicine again because the dog will block him to prevent an overdose," Cantara said.
Cantara opened Patriot Rovers in 2010. He can recall nearly every meeting between a service dog and the new owner.
"When they first arrive and meet these puppies for the first time, it's a very powerful emotion," Cantara said. "You can feel the spirit in the room. It's very moving."
One of the puppies in the enclosure is Nash. Without saying a word, Nash is now sitting perfectly still. It's like he knows he is about to meet his new owner for the first time. When Marine Cpl. Steven Bradley arrives, Nash walks to him. It's as though the pair have been together forever.
"I've been waiting for this since the first day I could be possibly getting one," Bradley said.
Adjusting to life away from the military has been difficult for Bradley. He is hoping Nash will help him heal emotionally.
"The biggest thing is him being there for me emotionally," Bradley said. "Can't explain how happy I am to have him looking after me."
Patriot Rovers also used this time to name the rest of the golden retrievers. Cantara describes how the puppies get their names.
"We consult with the Gold Star families. They choose the names to represent their sons and daughters," Cantara said.
Nash is named after Sgt. Casey Nash. Nash was killed in action May 2007. The other puppy, Dink, was named after a plane piloted by Capt. Frank Tothill. Tothill was a World War II fighter pilot that died at the age of 97 in November 2018. Bradley is named after Bradley's brother. Sgt. Mark Bradley was killed in action in June 2011.
"My mom, it psyches her up a lot and my whole family," Bradley said. "It's an honor for us to have Nash and a dog named after my older brother."
Sherry Bradley is the mother of the Bradley brothers. When she reached out to hold the golden retriever named Bradley, she pulled the puppy in close and didn't let go.
"Mark was always there for any and everybody. So it's cool that this little Bradley will do the same thing that my son did for his troops he was in command of," Sherry Bradley said.
It will be a few more months before Bradley will be able to take Nash home permanently.
Patriot Rovers provide the service dogs to veterans for free.