We read daily about the post traumatic stress that veterans of recent wars are experiencing. A correlation to that is escalating suicide rate among vets. Many people are finding support in therapy and with medications yet the impact of their PTSD has wide spread affects on their families and communities. I read a hopeful article recently by Scott Raven a columnist for the Arizona Republic newspaper.
He highlighted the work being done by ‘Soldier’s Best Friend’ a local based group that matches service and therapeutic companion dogs with military vets who have brain injuries or PTSD. I was very touched by the story of one vet named Justin. He was caught in an ambush in Iraq that lasted for minutes but felt like hours. The lingering affects of that and many other military experiences left him feeling that he never knew when the bad guys might turn and fire on him. His war zone experience taught him to be ever-vigilant because his survival depends on his ability to anticipate danger and react quickly. He came home in that state and had been unable to shake his hyper-vigilance. Not even when he and his wife went out for dinner or at the playground with his children. In this heightened state of anxiety and fear, rife with flashbacks, his body would shut down and refuse to function.
His wife broached the idea of a service dog with him. He was willing to try anything to get his life back. They met with the director of ‘Soldiers Best Friend’. He went through an extensive interview and stressed that he would feel safest with a large dog; one sturdy enough to keep him safe. The search began. A year previously she had met a pit-bull mix who was incredibly emaciated and had just given birth to pups. Though starving and dehydrated she was attentive and affectionate. Now she was ready to be placed with a family. The director really loved her energy and passion for life. She instinctively felt this was the right partner for Justin.
Initially Justin was disappointed, when he first saw Roxie, the dog that he hoped might save his life. He thought she would be bigger and sturdier. Able to stand her ground when his demons came. This dog was rather small. But the former soldier knew he was wrong just days later, when the not-big-enough, too friendly dog, curled up at his feet in a place where he knew the demons waited and the demons stayed away.
They completed service dog training in half the time it usually takes. He can now take Roxie with him everywhere, even places where pets are not allowed; passenger jets, restaurants, stores and hotels. Wherever Justin goes Roxie is with him. He is better now. “There is no doubt we rescued one another. She’s and integral part of me. I can’t imagine life without her”.
Such an elegant solution to such a painful condition. I hope this will inspire more vets to reach out for “Pet help”. There are so many abandoned lonely dogs looking for their life purpose and we certainly have a large population of returning vets who need a forever companion. Seems like a match made in heaven.