Lost, then found
Crystal is an Army veteran coping with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) who never imagined that her fate would align with a troubled shelter dog. She received an associates degree in culinary arts after she separated from service and traveled across the United States. Throughout her adventures she took in the cities, sights, and – of course – the food.
But even though she was back home in the states, Crystal felt lost.
“I was dealing with PTSD and I needed something routine,” she says. “I needed something to take care of, and I needed to be responsible.”
The Army veteran began searching for something – or someone – to help ground her life, and found Pets for Patriots. Crystal was warmed by our many success stories and impressed with the flexibility of our program.
“I had so many choices. I wasn’t limited to one particular shelter,” she says. “I was able to choose what animal I wanted.”
That companion animal and soon-to-be family member was a reserved, senior Chihuahua named Dayzee. Crystal met her through our partnership with the Virginia Beach SPCA, which offers discounted adoptions through its shelter and low-cost veterinary care through its affiliated clinic.
“When I first saw her all of the dogs were riled up except her,” she says.
Dayzee may have been quiet, but she was not silent. During their meet and greet she immediately jumped on Crystal’s lap, choosing the Army veteran as her own.
Crystal has many fond memories of her time in the military. The best take her to Spain, France and Germany.
“The food, the culture, the sights…” she reminisces. “It was the greatest experience of my young life.”
Ironically, Crystal never intended to join the Army. She was accepted into the Marine Corps marching band as a trumpet-player shortly after high school. At that same time her older sister announced that she had enlisted in the Marines. Crystal wanted a path of her own. She joined the Army, allowing her sister to be the only Marine in the family.
Army life suited Crystal well. She had always been drawn to cooking and appreciated that her Army career as a food service specialist gave her the opportunity to refine her culinary talents.
Good nutrition has always been an important part of Crystal’s life. After separating from service she worked as a chef in the healthcare industry, and then as a dietary manager. Her career in the kitchen came to an end recently when she became disabled.
The veteran and the troubled shelter dog: “We have issues”
Crystal is no longer working in the field she loves and is learning to live with PTSD. Her troubled shelter dog is helping her in surprising ways, even as the pint-sized pup deals with anxiety and aggression of her own.
“She’s been slowly bringing me out of my shell,” Crystal says. “We are working on her slowly as I work on me slowly.”
Since the moment she adopted Dayzee Crystal has done everything she can to make sure her beloved best friend is healthy and happy. She treats her pup to typical canine indulgences like car rides, trips to the local pet store and long walks in the park. And she takes great care in preparing each of Dayzee’s meals from scratch.
“I take time to get her proper nutrition. She’s definitely spoiled rotten when it comes to attention and food,” she says, adding that the little dog’s diet includes carrots and potatoes.
Crystal has been focusing on all aspects of Dayzee’s physical – and mental – health. The pair work hard to manage the little dog’s aggression and barking. Crystal finds that by dealing with her own invisible wounds she can empathize with Dayzee’s struggle.
“She is her raw and true self,” Crystal says, “she’s got issues, and we have issues.”
Helping the troubled shelter dog has relieved Crystal’s singular focus on her own problems and redirected it to caring for Dayzee.
Friends in need
In time Crystal’s PTSD became overwhelming, more than her little companion could help her overcome. Suddenly she was faced with the unimaginable dilemma of entering an in-patient treatment program and losing her beloved dog.
Anguished and just days from entering an in-patient treatment program, Crystal reached out to Pets for Patriots. In turn, we reached out to one of our partners to see if an emergency foster could be arranged – one that would allow Crystal to reunite with Dayzee after her hospitalization.
“[Pets for Patriots] was there for me,” Crystal says, “so we could continue our journey.”
Our partners at Dogs On Deployment answered the call. The organization provides deployment and hardship boarding for veterans’ personal pets. Fortunately they have a robust foster network in Crystal’s community and were able to arrange a near-immediate foster for Dayzee.
The Army veteran was able to enter treatment with one less stress in her life, safe in the knowledge that Dayzee would be there for her upon her return.
The song remains the same
In treatment, Crystal was surrounded by people with narratives similar to her own.
“You know I learned that a lot of these stories that you hear – they’re the same stories just different faces,” she says.
Taking this time for herself was an important step in the Army veteran’s healing. Returning home to her loving, yet troubled shelter dog made her homecoming all the more special (see their reunion video here).
“She’s been around me ever since I got back. We look out for each other.”
The day Crystal came home was an exciting day for the both of them.
“I don’t know who had the most fun,” she laughs. “She was making weird noises and wouldn’t stop moving. That was her way of saying she missed me.”
Crystal believes that veterans who struggle with mental health challenges should understand that while their pain is real it does not have to control their lives. She believes that our society stigmatizes people with emotional challenges and would like to see that change.
“The issue [of mental health] is still there and still valid, and you can regain some of the old you back,” she stresses. “Especially for veterans, we have our diseases. Some diseases go unacknowledged.”
Pets for Patriots shares Crystal’s perspective that issues surrounding psychological health should not be stigmatized. Since 2010 we are a national partner of the Real Warriors campaign to promote resilience, recovery and reintegration of military veterans into productive civilian lives.
Lessons in love
Dayzee – in spite of her own challenges – is a big part of Crystal’s recovery.
“I know she knows things about me,” Crystal says. “It’s unconditional love. If I’m having a good day or bad day or [an] okay day, she’s still going to love me no matter what kind of day I’m having.”
While the Army veteran accepts the limitations of her little charge, she craves more opportunities to socialize with other people and other dogs. So far, Dayzee’s behavior issues limit those opportunities, but the pup has helped her veteran heal.
Crystal accepts Dayzee for who she is, just as the troubled shelter dog embraces the Army veteran without condition. Recently Crystal has considered volunteering at her local shelter in order to socialize more with other people – while at the same time helping the shelter animals.
Still, Crystal remains hopeful that one day Dayzee will become more comfortable around other dogs and people.
“She’s teaching me patience,” Crystal says. “She’s not perfect, I’m not perfect.”