Duke lived in animal shelters for much of his young life until he had an opportunity of a lifetime: rescue an Army veteran haunted by Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
The big, Labrador/Great Dane mix languished at a Colorado humane society before being transferred to a local rescue, never having a family or home of his own for the first two years of his life. Each day, he would sit idly by as other homeless animals were adopted and he was left behind.
Little did big Duke know that one day in January his fate would be forever bound with an Army veteran searching for relief from her severe PTSD.
The nightmares and anxiety of PTSD
Anna and her husband are both military veterans who settled in Colorado with their three young children and two cats. She was stationed in Germany and deployed once to Israel, and sums up her military life in four simple words:
“I loved my job.”
But life was less than idyllic for this Army veteran. Her PTSD was often debilitating, and she was wracked with nightmares and anxiety that are a hallmark of the disorder.
Now separated from service, Anna and her husband enjoy any opportunity to be outdoors and particularly love to hike. Still, they sensed something was missing in their lives when they stepped up to help a fellow veteran who was leaving for deployment.
“After puppy sitting for a friend of ours while he was deployed,” she explains, “we realized that there was a big empty space in our home. We had our two cats, but we loved having a dog to take with us when we’d go out hiking.”
Anna recognized that a dog would be more than a hiking companion; it could be her lifeline.
“I suffer a lot from nightmares and anxiety,” Anna says. “Having a dog around helps to decrease those feelings.”
He had her at ‘woof’
Newly inspired to adopt a dog, Anna heard about Pets for Patriots through one of her veterans’ groups.
“I heard how much help Pets for Patriots had been in helping them find their forever friend,” she says, “and knew that the process was right for me.”
After qualifying for the program and being approved, Anna visited Lucky Dog Rescue in Colorado Springs. In partnership with Pets for Patriots, the rescue helps place animals most challenged to find loving homes with veterans and active duty personnel looking for a new pet friend. Nearly all of the animals in Lucky Dog’s care are in foster homes, where they receive socialization, medical attention and training. But not Duke.
“We decided to go down to the rescue,” says Anna. “We asked if they had any of the dogs there, and the only one actually at the rescue at the time was Duke.”
The Army veteran felt the strong hand of destiny.
“I felt like he was waiting for us to come get him,” Anna recalls. “As soon as they brought him out, his tail started wagging and he ran right to me.”
The couple was told to wait til an upcoming adoption fair, just days later, to formally adopt the big dog. Anna was more than ready to give Duke the life that he deserved, but that had eluded him for his entire life.
“On the day of the fair we arrived bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, ready to take Duke home and spoil him rotten.”
Learning to be a dog again
Anna’s plans hit a bit of a roadblock when, at first, Duke showed signs of aggression.
“We learned that in all his life he’s first been at the humane society, then the rescue,” Anna explains. “He’s never had toys of his own and had felt for years like food was a resource he had to protect from other dogs.”
With love and patience, Duke eventually realized that he didn’t need to guard his things.
“Since being with us, he’s learned that he has his own toys and no one will steal his food,” says the Army veteran. “He loves bison liver treats as well, an he’s getting better about walking calmly.”
A soft touch during hard times
Duke isn’t the only one who has been transformed through adoption. Anna has herself been rescued in the process, and now enjoys some four-legged therapy for her PTSD. She recommends other veterans who may be considering pet adoption learn about Pets for Patriots and, if possible, adopt through their nationwide program.
For now, though, she marvels in the healing capacity of a dog who – for years – no one else wanted to adopt.
“Duke is great at cuddling. Anytime I’m having a hard day, Duke stays right with me and just snuggles,” she says, adding: “He also smiles all the time now.”
How does your pet help you cope with PTSD or other psychological stress?
I adopted by yellow lab (rescue lab) almost six months ago. Since then Daisy has been in continuous training. She has earned her Canine Good Citizen from the AKC, certification through TDI, and we have (and continue) trained as a service dog team with a great trainer (U Good Dog). Daisy has passed her PAT and has learned some tasks to assist me as my SD; she continues to learn. I am a disabled vet and have a significant disability from cancer. But I have also developed work-related anxiety (Counseling Psychologist in the Army Substance Abuse Program – Fort Riley); and Daisy uses deep pressure therapy to re-orient me and calm me down. I would be lost without her, in so many ways! – Sara
Loved this! My red-nosed pit bull spent two years in the shelter waiting … Now he is my best friend and sleep therapist. Often I can’t sleep – not PTSD, anxiety. I’ve tried everything on “those” nights — pills, boring books, socks on, socks off, changing rooms … What always works is snuggling on the couch next to Happi. He is so solid and so calm – within ten to 15 minutes, I’m out. Even through I have three other dogs – he is the only one who has this affect on me. We also adopted a cat, Gengus Le Chat, with a talent for reducing migraine headache pain! He perches himself behind my husband’s head and mine, whenever we have a headaches, and just purrs and purrs and purrs. He is the only one of our four cats who does that. I am continually amazed by our furry saviors. Thanks so much for the great article – per usual. – Viveca
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