I had the honor of meeting a new client, Wounded Warrior, Joseph! Joseph served in the Air Force for 5 years, and is still active duty – but will be getting out very soon due to his disabilities. Our first training session lasted 6 hours – but for wonderful reasons!! Joseph is as kind, polite, and humble as one could imagine. He had three terrible deployments in his 5 years, and finally acknowledged, after suppressing his ever-increasing PTSD, that he had to get out of the military to literally save his life. He entered a wonderful inpatient program at Laurel Ridge for Wounded Warriors with PTSD and TBI, completed that, and is now in their outpatient program. At Laurel Ridge, Joseph met a former client of ours, Jason, with his SD, Sassy, and Jason told Joseph how much having a Service Dog had enhanced his life. Right then, Joseph decided he wanted a Service Dog to help with his daily life of isolation and fear of going out into the public.
I talked extensively with Joseph, and he had seen the write-up about SDIT, Viva, who was rescued and being trained by Cherry Jenkins and our non-profit arm, In Dog We Trust. So, I hopped in my car and Joseph hopped in his, and off we went to meet Viva, about 45 minutes away. I explained to Joseph that when he met Viva, he would know within about 15 minutes if there was a bond between them. BOY, WAS THERE EVER!!!!! Cherry did a wonderful job training Viva the basics, and Joseph and I did training on such things as heeling, sit, down, snuggle, and stay. Joseph and Viva were so happy together. Seeing Joseph smile and show joy and a reprieve from his negative thoughts by hugging, holding, and petting Viva for a long time was so moving to see, it brought Cherry and I to tears. Joseph was completely focused on Viva, and it was a total transformation in his demeanor.
Joseph adopted Viva, and then I said to Joseph – “You know, now we have to go to Petsmart to get all of Viva’s needed items”. Joseph quickly realized that this would be the first time he had gone into any public place for an extended period of time. When we got to Petsmart, I asked Joseph, who was already anxious, if he wanted me to go in and get the items, or if he wanted to try to go in to this crowded place. He took a deep breath, and said he wanted to try!
So many people asked about Viva and approached Joseph asking to pet Viva – and instead of ignoring them, Joseph did it!!! We then went into the store, and actually spent about 45 minutes getting all supplies needed for a new dog! I could tell that Joseph was struggling with the whole situation by his body posture, sweating, and face turning red – BUT HE DID IT!!!! Just the day before, his counselor had asked Joseph to TRY to enter a Wal-Mart for a few minutes, but he stood outside and couldn’t do it. I noticed Joseph bending down to hug and scratch Viva very often at Petsmart – exactly what he needed to do to ease his anxiety – and Viva gave him that comfort.
When we walked out of Petsmart, we stood there while Joseph took several deep breaths, and I asked him, “Do you realize what an amazing accomplishment you just made? You stayed in the store despite your feelings like you just wanted to run out. You spoke to people who approached you – and you used Viva to help you stay and refocus away from the crowds.” He acknowledged what a triumph he had just made. He admitted he wanted to run about 10 minutes before we left, but he stayed.
I could not have been prouder of him, and I reminded him of what a huge step in his recovery he had just made. He couldn’t wait to let his counselor know the next day that he had done this!!!! He said that focusing on Viva and knowing I also had his back made it possible for him. I think he knew that his life was now changed and his ability to become a person that could do “normal” things in the future was becoming a reality.
Since that first session, he has slept with Viva every night – and although Joseph has nightly night terrors, he would watch Viva sleep and when SHE seemed to be having nightmares in her sleep, he would gently wake her and let her know she was safe. Here he was, used to consistently plagued by a lack of sleep due to his PTSD, helping his new battle buddy.
Joseph brought Viva to outpatient therapy for the entire next day. The next thing I knew, there were several patients on the Laurel Ridge campus, all Wounded Warriors who saw Viva, asking me how they could get Service Dogs. So, since Saturday is “visitors” day, next Saturday, Cherry, her husband Gregg, myself, and my husband are going to bring down a “caravan” of ALL the dogs in In Dog We Trust’s care to Laurel Ridge to make more matches!!
THE PRIDE I FELT FOR JOSEPH CONQUERING THIS FEAR AND HIS ABSOLUTE LOVE FOR VIVA WOULD BRING YOU TO TEARS. WHAT A GLORIOUS STORY!