Despite the summer heat waves and a raging international pandemic, three more new veteran and service dog teams have graduated from American Humane’s life-changing, life-saving Pups4PatriotsTM program: Veteran Jessica with her service dog Lucy, Veteran Michael with his service dog Bam Bam and Veteran Kyle with his service dog Nova. This is the second group of graduates this summer.
American Humane’s Pups4PatriotsTM program trains carefully selects dogs in need of forever homes and pairs them with veterans who have been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress or Traumatic Brain Injury. For some veterans, coming home as a civilian is only the beginning of another daunting battle. Here at American Humane, we are devoted to harnessing the healing powers of the human-animal bond to help veterans deal with the invisible wounds of war. These specially trained PTS service dogs can reduce stress and anxiety levels, mitigate depression, ease social reintegration, provide comfort and restore confidence in affected veterans.
Jessica is a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who served from 2017 to 2019. She lives in California and is now paired with Lucy, a female black Labrador Retriever. Their training was made possible by the generous support of Adtalem. Following her graduation, Jessica said:
I decided to apply for a service dog when I realized how small my world had become. I couldn’t step foot into a restaurant or even a grocery store anymore, and I was completely isolating myself at home. Since being paired with my dog Lucy, I have been able to experience so many new places that I never could have even imagined before. Having her by my side has made my world so much bigger and brighter, and I no longer feel afraid. I couldn’t have asked for a better teammate, she’s allowed me to fully live my life again, and I’m beyond grateful for the bond that we share.
All that I can really say to the donors that support service dog training for veterans, is thank you. Thank you for allowing me to sleep through the night again. Thank you for giving me a reason to smile and get out of bed every morning. Lucy is everything to me, and our partnership wouldn’t be possible without your support.
Michael is a U.S. Air Force veteran who served from 2004 to 2009. He served as a military police officer and completed three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. He lives in Florida and is now paired with Bam Bam, a male Samoyed mix. This team was kindly sponsored by DAV/Dixie Gleave. After his graduation, Michael wrote the following:
I cannot begin to thank you, my trainer Ann, American Humane, and the donors who sponsored the training enough. For them, I am a faceless, unknown stranger. But for me, you all have helped me in ways that I can never repay and will always hold a special place in my heart. I will always look back and be extremely grateful for all of your help, and look back with the fondest of memories. My hope now moving forward, is that I can pay it forward and be of service to another veteran. I now know how veterans can tremendously benefit from having a service dog, and wish that every veteran in need is afforded the opportunity to heal with one. The veteran population is at a crisis with suicide, and I know, and am a firm believer that service dogs can help heal us, in ways that prescription drugs simply cannot.
To the donors, thank you again. I’ll never be able to thank you enough. So once again, thank you from the bottom of my heart. Having a service dog is one of the best feelings in the world. I may not know much in this crazy world we live in, and overanalyze too much. What I do know is that my dog is love. He brings me to a childlike state of mind at times and makes me forget about all my problems. We have a very special bond between us. He encourages me to be present. He has encouraged me to go out more, be more confident, more active, smile more, to be open, to love more, to be a better person.
What I miss most about my military service is being scared out of my mind. Hoping, praying, that I don’t die from a roadside bomb that day. And no matter how crazy that may sound, I miss that feeling. Not many people will understand. But more so, the state of mind. In retrospect, it was one of the only moments of my life where I reached a Nirvana-like state of mind, and thinking, where my only thought was, don’t die.
I miss having that singularity of purpose and thought. For me, that was beautiful.
When my dog looks up at me and makes eye contact after a “watch me” cue, the world stops, and I feel glee inside with a childlike state of happiness.
Kyle is a U.S. Marine Corps combat veteran who retired in 2020 after serving 16 years. He lives in California and is paired with Nova, a male German Shepherd. Zoetis Petcare, a longstanding supporter of American Humane, generously sponsored Kyle and Nova’s training. Kyle told us:
I have suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder due to combat since 2006. Before having Nova, my service dog, in my life, I never went out in public alone. When I did go out, I relied heavily on my wife to help me calm down and navigate me through the public. I was used to having no emotional connection with anyone – human or animal. I contacted my trainer to help me have a better relationship with Nova and change my old ways of training animals through submission. The trainer could have turned me away, but instead welcomed Nova and myself. It’s hard to imagine that an animal could have helped me, but that is exactly what the organization and Nova did. I am now able to go out more in public, find joy in life, and all with the help of my service dog with me at every step. My training not only helped my relationship with Nova and my outlook on life, but also helped me realize there are still people out there that care about us. For that I will always be in their debt.
Congratulations to Jessica and Lucy, Michael and Bam Bam and Kyle and Nova!
While service dogs are an invaluable asset to veterans with trauma, there are significant obstacles to receiving one. Through the Pups4Patriots program, American Humane provides service dogs to veterans at no charge to them. To learn more, and find out how to fund more lifesaving service dogs for our veterans, please visit www.americanhumane.org/program/military/.