Homeless Vet Loses Service Dog during Arrest for Panhandling


In October of 2021, a homeless veteran lost his service dog because of police callousness in Gastonia, NC. For those who are curious, Joshua Graham Rohrer is a homeless man who was deployed in both Kuwait and Iraq as a member of the Kentucky Army National Guard in the mid 2000s. Due to that, he developed PTSD, with the result that he was assigned a service dog named Malinois Sunshine.

The Story

Rohrer was standing close to a shopping center in Gastonia, NC when someone called the cops on him. He wasn’t bothering anyone. However, the caller claimed that Malinois Sunshine was Rohrer’s way of attracting sympathy. As such, a cop drove up to him, stated that she was going to give him a ticket for panhandling, and then called for other cops for back-up when he started arguing that he wasn’t doing anything wrong. Witnesses stated that the cops proceeded to slam Rohrer against the police car before handcuffing him because he wasn’t retrieving his ID fast enough for them. Unsurprisingly, Malinois Sunshine intervened. Rohrer stated that she was trying to do her job by trying to calm him down. As such, the cops started yelling at him to get her to calm down but wouldn’t let him get physical control of her. Eventually, Malinois Sunshine nipped at one of the cops, at which point, she was tased. Witnesses screamed for the cops not to shoot the dog, which managed to run off with one of the taser prongs still dangling off of her. Meanwhile, Rohrer was slammed to the pavement before being arrested for solicitation as well as resisting arrest. He begged the cops to bring Malinois Sunshine with him. However, they refused his request even though Rohrer cited a North Carolina statute stating that people with disabilities have the right to bring their service dog with them, particularly when their health is at risk.

Unfortunately, that was the last time that Rohrer would ever see Malinois Sunshine. One of his friends managed to find the dog. However, Malinois Sunshine slipped the leash before running away that very night. Rohrer was released the next day after managing to post bail, though not before he was subjected to more bad treatment. For example, he mentioned the cops laughing at him. Similarly, he mentioned the cops telling him that he was a bad person. Regardless, Rohrer went searching for Malinois Sunshine right away. Something that proved to be too late because she had been killed when she was struck by a car in Shelby, NC, which was where the friend lived. Unsurprisingly, Rohrer reacted very poorly to this. His friend stated that he tried to throw himself in front of cars because he wanted to kill himself after everything that he had experienced. Eventually, he and Shelby, NC police were able to subdue Rohrer, though he had already sustained injuries for which he had to be treated at the VA Medical Center in Asheville, NC. Since then, the news of the incident has spread. Thanks to that, there has been a wave of support for Rohrer. Unfortunately, that has come too late for Malinois Sunshine. As for the cops in Gastonia, NC, they haven’t done much besides stating that they will look into the incident to see if their behavior was “appropriate.”

Why Are the Homeless Treated So Poorly?

Sadly, the poor treatment of the homeless is an extremely widespread issue. In considerable part, this is because of comforting myths that portray them as being the cause of their own problems, which are presumably comforting for those who believe in them. For example, there is a common belief that most homeless people abuse either alcohol or some other kind of drug. The exact numbers are unclear for obvious reasons, but estimates range between 20 to 40 percent. Moreover, alcohol and drug abuse is the sole cause of homeless in just a small percentage of cases. Instead, it is more common for homeless people to develop such issues because of their homelessness, particularly since that puts them so close to both users and dealers.

Similarly, there is the common belief that the homeless are overwhelmingly violent. If anything, homeless people are much likelier to be the victims of violence rather than the perpetrators of violence, particularly since they make for such vulnerable targets. For that matter, even when the rare individual engages in violence other than self-defense, they tend to aim it towards other homeless people. As for the related belief that the homeless are overwhelmingly criminals, there is more truth to that but misses the point. Homeless people are indeed likelier to run into the criminal justice system. However, this is because so many of the things that they do for their survival are criminalized, meaning that they aren’t running into the criminal justice system because of anything particularly dangerous but rather because of things such as littering, loitering, and trespassing.

Besides these, it is also worth mentioning that homeless people just don’t have easy ways out of their predicament. A considerable number have income, whether because they work a job or because they are getting payments because of some kind of disability. Unfortunately, they remain homeless because they can’t afford rent in spite of that. Of course, those who want to work still struggle to find a low-wage position because they lack an address, clean clothing, a place to shower, and so on and so forth. Veterans are particularly vulnerable to becoming homeless, so much so that one estimate says that they made up 11 percent of the total population of adult homeless people in the United States. As for why this happens, there are a number of reasons, which can be combined with one another in the same case. Often-times, economic issues are involved, with common examples ranging from insufficient benefits to a lack of low-cost housing. Similarly, it is very common for veterans to suffer either physical or mental issues that make it difficult for them to overcome those economic issues. In particular, PTSD can erode a veteran’s social network, make it difficult for them to keep a job, and even make it difficult for them to trust themselves, which makes it no wonder that it comes up so often in the stories of homeless veterans.

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