DURHAM, N.C. — Finding peace after experiencing the toils of war is never easy for veterans. It is why a doctor is using her veterinary background to match veterans with trained dogs.

Vets to Vets United has given Dan Portaro, a Vietnam War veteran, a feeling of being more in control of his life. A sweet service animal named Bailey is helping.

What You Need To Know

  • Vets to Vets United was founded in 2012

  • Dr. Terry Morris is the founder

  • Morris connects veterans suffering from life-altering disabilities to service animals

  • Dan Portaro is a Vietnam War veteran who was paired with his service dog Bailey

“To the positive, very much so. Having her has given me something to focus on,” Portaro said.

The dog is a positive distraction for Portaro. 

The 72-year-old said he met Bailey 2.5 years ago through Veterinarians to Veterans United.

The nonprofit organization connects the brave men and women who left the military with lifelong debilitating injuries—to service animals.

“I had a lot of anxiety issues,” Portaro said. Anxiety is a symptom of a greater problem, but it is not his only health issue.

“The biggest one was the PTSD. I had problems with that from day one when I came home,” he said.

The now-retired civilian said he didn’t receive a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) until three years ago.

The former soldier has undergone 17 separate operations, which included left and right hip replacements, since he returned to the United States in August 1971.

Those physical hurdles compound the side effects of a daily struggle with PTSD. 

He said what the eyes see, the mind can never forget. Portaro has detailed some combat experiences in his book, Second Son: Fortunate One.

Terry Morris' father, Willie Morris (Credit: Terry Morris)

“Well, to the layman that means we were exposed to a lot of stuff over there at a really young age. A lot of us were just teenagers when we went over and we came back home changed people. Changed men,” Portaro said.

Portaro said Bailey is great in community settings. The veteran describes the dog as a buffer in large crowds. Portaro has severe hearing loss from a grenade explosion during the war. Bailey is trained to distinguish between loud noises. 

If there is a real danger, this is when the service animal shines. Baily can maintain space between him and other people when moving through the crowd.

A few years ago Dr. Terry Morris came into Portaro's life. 

Morris is the founder of Vets to Vets United. Morris is a veterinarian who combined her love for animals with her desire to help veterans.

“I actually have always, for as long as I can remember, always loved animals,” Morris said.

Karon Morris Crawley (Credit: Terry Morris)

Her father and sister served as captains in the Air Force.

Willie Morris was a bomber pilot who was killed during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Her sibling, Karon Morris Crawley, has retired from duty.

Their service inspired the start of the foundation in 2012.

“I actually see that in every veteran that I help. I see my father. I’m honoring my father and all veterans as well,” Terry Morris said.

There's a salute to the service behind every healing bond. 

“This is a great organization that helps veterans improve their lives and also helps save rescue dogs, and rescue animals,” she said.

Terry Morris was given the Joseph R. Biden Lifetime Achievement award for years of volunteering in the community.