I have traversed many intersections in the 19,000 miles since the 28’ motorhome, Jolly Swag, and I befriended one another. Some of those intersections appear only on a map in my mind and in my heart.
At one corner of an intersection is Marine Sergeant Andy Brandi, (https://allevenson.wordpress.com/people/andy-brandy-ptsd-counsellor) who spends most hours of most days counseling combat veterans struggling with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Andy lives off the grid in New Mexico.
Another corner of that intersection is in Ponte Vedra, Florida.
Let us look at how I came to be at that intersection.
First, let us remind ourselves of the special bond between a boy and his dog, a bond recognized though it stretches across centuries and oceans—across cultures and conflicts.
Recently, my awareness of therapy dogs took a leap, thanks the book, Shiloh Speaks, co-authored by my friend, Colleen Rae. I mentioned this new interest of mine to my new friend, Bev Johnson, in The Villages in Florida, where she is president of The Dynamic Dogs, a club which has therapy dogs program.
To my good fortune, soon after I met Bev, the club was meeting and had a special speaker, Shari Duval, who introduced me to still another special sort of dog—the Service Dog, uniquely trained for PTSD.
Matching up special dogs with special boys is an idea that came to Shari and her husband, Bob, a bit over a year ago—soon after their son, Brett Simon, returned from his second tour in Iraq.
He had volunteered to support the troops in the way he knew best—not as a combat warrior, but using his training as a police officer in a K9 bomb detection unit. He returned changed—the change was PTSD.
K9s For Warriors (K9sforwarriors.org) is a year-old organization born of the collision between a desperate need and a determined mother. The work of K9s For Warriors is to partner up dogs trained to be with warriors suffering from PTSD. No other organization in the country is focused on this mission alone.
The program appears simple. Dogs—most of them rescued dogs, are given to K9s For Warriors for training by certified professionals. While training, the dogs live in kennels at a three-bedroom house near Ponte Vedra on North Florida’s Atlantic Coast.
Candidates for the program are referred by physicians, military institutions, or the Wounded Warrior Project (www.woundedwarriorproject.org). The warriors are subject to thorough background checks to insure they are not substance abusers or animal abusers. They must have an honorable discharge and no criminal history. When they arrive to live at the house, they are paired with a dog that moves into the house with his new partner. They spend two weeks learning how to take care of one another. Then they go out into the world together.
Although the process seems simple, the logistics of selection, training, and follow-up monitoring are finely tuned and managed by certified professionals. The logistical details of program management and fund-raising are the tasks of the founders, the Duvals.
Last year, 18 warriors, 17 men and one woman, graduated from the program. This year they are hoping for 35, which they believe is optimum for their facility. Keep it small, keep it tight, and keep it personal.
PTSD dogs are Service Dogs, unlike the therapy dogs featured in recent postings at this blog.
PTSD dogs are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of someone with a specific disability. Service Dogs are permitted by law to accompany people with disabilities in all areas where members of the public are allowed to go. PTSD dogs learn to detect mood swings, recognize the onset of panic and anxiety attacks, and distract their partner in the most basic way: nose pokes, tongue facials, and body nudges. The dogs wake their warriors from nightmares. And, I suspect, help the warriors to relearn about affectionate touch, emotional connection, and healthy human relationship.
Shari and Bob are making a difference “One Warrior and One Canine at a time” with the help of Brett, who is the Canine/Military Coordinator for K9s For Warriors.
Donate via PayPal at info@K9sForWarriors.org or put a check in the mail to K9s For Warriors, 88 Cat Road, Ponte Vedra Beach, FL. 32082
Tell them AL sent you.