11/06/2013 17:10 EST | Updated 01/23/2014 18:58 EST

Canadian veterans' charity gets $132K boost from Glenfiddich

World-renowned whisky maker Glenfiddich is donating $2 from the sale of every bottle of its 15-year-old single malt scotch sold in Canada since January to a non-profit organization that helps members of the Canadian Forces returning from conflict zones adjust to civilian life.

The donation, announced Wednesday at the Moss Park Armoury in Toronto, amounts to $131,616 and is the biggest  gift Wounded Warriors Canada has received since it was founded in 2006. 

Glenfiddich ​is a popular brand of Speyside scotch owned by William Grant & Sons, which also owns several other major whisky brands, including Balvenie, Tullamore Dew and Grant's, as well as Hendrick's gin.

The company first announced in June that it would be donating some proceeds from the Canadian sales of its 15-year-old Solera whisky, which sells for $71.95 in Ontario, and that the funds raised from the campaign would be presented annually each November. Wednesday's donation represents more than 65,000 bottles purchased countrywide, said Beth-Anne Thomas, national brand manager for Glenfiddich.

The company plans to continue the campaign at least through 2014.

"It's over the top; it's phenomenal," said Wounded Warriors Canada executive director Scott Maxwell of the size of the donation, which is significantly more than the $50,000 to $80,000 range of the charity's average corporate donations to date.

Focus on post-traumatic stress sufferers

Wounded Warriors Canada, which is not affiliated with the Wounded Warriors Project in the U.S., focuses on helping soldiers who have returned from missions in places such as Afghanistan, Rwanda and Bosnia reintegrate into civilian life. Specifically, it funds programs for veterans who have been medically released from the armed forces and are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

"Once they're released, they have to begin this, what can be a particularly daunting transition phase to civilian life," said Maxwell.

The group has an annual budget of between $700,000 and $900,000, all of which comes from individual and corporate donations. About 75 per cent of its funding goes toward programs, Maxwell said.

Much of the group's current work is centred around providing animal-assisted therapy for ex-soldiers struggling with PTSD. (Retired lieutenant-general Roméo Dallaire, who has spoken passionately about the need for greater awareness of PTSD, is the group's national patron.)

It works with the Winnipeg-based organization Courageous Companions to provide veterans with dogs that have been trained to work with PTSD sufferers and funds a similar program with horses in Alberta.

The animals help veterans overcome the severe anxiety that is a common symptom of PTSD and to get over the crippling inability to carry out the daily tasks they need to get on with their lives, Maxwell said.

"Some of these folks struggle with some of the basic things that we take for granted every day: getting up and going outside, going to the mall, going grocery shopping, just functioning daily," Maxwell said.

Animals can help motivate veterans

The cost of providing a specially trained dog to a veteran is about $5,000, but the benefits can be life changing, said Maxwell. The dogs can help veterans deal with crowds, for example, by providing a physical buffer between them and other people. When veterans have to feed and care for the animals, they slowly get motivated to do some of the tasks they would otherwise find too overwhelming.

"It helps them connect with something again and make them feel like they have responsibilities again and that they have something to look after," Maxwell said.

The organization's focus on tackling the less visible wounds of war is in part what attracted Glenfiddich to the organization, said Thomas. The company began fundraising for Wounded Warriors in October 2012, auctioning off a 26 oz bottle of Glenfiddich 55-year-old Janet Sheed Roberts Reserve, one of only 11 in the world, for $52,000, all of which it donated to the organization.

"Glenfiddich is family owned and has been for over 125 years," Thomas said. "Wounded Warriors was founded with the whole ethos of families and helping Canadian military families, so we found a lot of synergies with Wounded Warriors and their spirit and the things that they wanted to do — reaching into areas that really weren't at the forefront of treatment with the Canadian military."

Maxwell said his organization doesn't aim to replace the programs provided by Veterans Affairs but to fill in some of the gaps in service in the areas that perhaps get less attention, such as PTSD and mental health.

"Veterans Affairs is never going to be able to handle all of the load on this front," he said. "Could they do more? Absolutely. Could they do it all? Absolutely not. So, we just try to address the gaps that exist."