A Navy veteran coping with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder turned to her faith and found an unlikely savior: a traumatized shelter dog with anxieties of his own.
A Navy career cut short
Lynn is medically retired from the military and living in San Diego. In 2015, the native New Yorker enlisted in the Navy as a hull technician. During her tour of duty she was stationed in Hawaii, Chicago, and San Diego. She is one of many veterans whose time in the service did not work out as planned.
“[I] was medically retired in 2017. That wasn’t my plan when I joined,” she says. “I genuinely joined to serve and I’m still bitter things turned out that way.”
Today Lynn lives with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which flares up when she is around a lot of people. Her PTSD can make living in downtown San Diego difficult, where she struggles sometimes to even go outside.
Traumatized shelter dog to the rescue
Companion pets help people cope with a range of emotional and physical challenges, including depression and anxiety, both commonly associated with PTSD.
Lynn’s case manager at the Veterans Affairs (VA) hospital told her about Pets for Patriots and our nationally-operating nonprofit pairing veterans and shelter animals. The Navy veteran was receptive to the idea of adopting a companion pet, specifically a dog.
“I’ve always wanted a dog because I love animals,” she says.
In February, 2018 Lynn applied to our program – and just five days after being approved she found her hero.
Jekyll was a then four year-old Shepherd mix in the care of our partners at San Diego Humane Society.
Since 2014 the shelter has worked with us to help the most overlooked dogs and cats in their care find loving military homes. In exchange, they waive adoption fees for any eligible pets adopted from their three San Diego county campuses.
Lynn turned to her faith to help her find the right match. Her prayers were answered with a simple kiss of her hand.
“I’m religious so I pray, and I was walking into the shelter,” Lynn recalls. “I was praying for the perfect dog.”
The big Shepherd licked Lynn’s hand. She knew he was friendly and felt an instant connection.
Jekyll was renamed Odahviing, or Odie for short, after a video game dragon that can be summoned to help in battle.
The fight of their lives
Odie is Lynn’s emotional support animal (ESA). ESAs are not task-trained service animals. Their mere presence is assistive to relieve symptoms of an emotional disability.
Lynn believes that Odie struggles with demons from years of neglect – and possible abuse.
“I’m guessing he was abused, [and] I knew that he was neglected. When I got him, his eardrums had eroded. I had to deal with taking him to the humane society [which] offers free follow up treatment.”
Lynn recounts having to hold Odie while the veterinarians put drops into his ears, how he had a bad infection on his paw, and a tick as well.
Even though Odie’s physical ailments are now healed, Lynn continues to help him unlearn deep-seated fears.
When Lynn brought the big dog home he was fearful – of strangers, other dogs, even the noise of dishes being washed in the sink.
“I don’t know why a dog would be so scared,” she says. “When I first got him, when I went to pet him, he’d be scared. He still doesn’t like his belly rubbed, and he’s scared of sprinklers outside, or if someone’s watering flowers outside.”
But as time has passed Odie has calmed down, and is now a near-constant presence in Lynn’s life.
“He’ll follow me around my apartment. I’ll walk from the bathroom to the kitchen and he’s always within five feet of me.”
Some of the behaviors are typical of dogs with separation anxiety. While new pet guardians might think it sweet when their dogs shadow them, it can be a sign that the animal is stressed by even their most minimal absence.
The Navy veteran realized that Odie is trying to do what he believes is his job.
“He wants to watch over me and protect me, but he’s scared.”
The Navy veteran has a hard time sleeping due to nightmares associated with her PTSD. At first Odie would be distant from her the morning after Lynn had night terrors, but even that has changed with time. Now the big dog will run to comfort Lynn if she wakes up screaming.
“On days when I have a hard time getting out of bed because of fatigue, he comes and lays with me,” Lynn says.
As it turns out, Lynn may not be the only one at home who struggles with painful dreams.
“Odie used to cry and bark and be scared in his sleep, but now he has normal dreams. He seems happier. He’s more relaxed since I adopted him.”
Lynn says she feels more relaxed, too.
“He’s helped a lot with my PTSD. I live in downtown San Diego so just going outside and being around people it flares,” she explains.
Just the simple act of petting Odie can relieve Lynn’s anxiety. And the responsibilities that come with having a dog force the Navy veteran to overcome crippling isolation.
“If I didn’t have Odie, I wouldn’t go outside, I’d just stay in my apartment,” Lynn shares. “Having people compliment him on walks forces me to casually talk to people, too, which is something I wouldn’t do if he wasn’t with me. And I can talk to him, so I tell him stuff and that helps a lot. He’s a sweet baby.”
Despite all the struggles in both of their lives, Lynn and Odie are grateful to be together. As the traumatized shelter dog continues to open up to Lynn, the Navy veteran continues to heal.
“I love that he’s very silly and that he’s very loyal. I love that he walks around and follows me everywhere. He’s like my guard dog,” she says. “Plus, he’s fuzzy and I love petting him.”
Lynn recommends Pets for Patriots to other veterans because she knows firsthand how our program helps people – and pets.
“It was so, so helpful…You helped me afford him, and I really needed him,” she says. “It’s helping rescue animals and making adoption easier for vets.”
Veterans who adopt companion pets with backstories of their own come to appreciate how therapeutic it can be to help an animal overcome his own anxieties. It is one of the most positive and healthy outcomes of our nonprofit’s focus on the most overlooked, undervalued shelter dogs and cats. Including traumatized shelter dogs like Odie.
When Lynn first adopted the big dog his fears were almost overwhelming. But now that Odie knows that he is loved and safe, his true personality has started to emerge. And so has his relationship blossomed with his veteran.
“He’s my baby. He acts super silly and he’s very smart and well behaved,” she says. “He’s my best friend.”