(WSPA) – When our veterans come back from combat, settling back in can sometimes be difficult. but a service dog can make all the difference.
They say a dog is man’s best friend. But to a veteran with PTSD, it takes on a whole new meaning.
“The dog actually knows the veteran better than the veteran knows themself,” said veteran Bill Brightman.
Brightman, who served in the Navy, knows this very well. He has been running Service Dogs for Veterans for seven years.
“They map us so they know eye tension, facial tension, twitching of the hand, the pitch of your voice, the tone,” said Brightman. “They map all of that and its actually in many cases better than medicine.”
Unlike most training facilities that train dogs that will eventually be paired with a veteran, his approach is different. The actual veteran trains the dog.
“It’s very cathartic for a veteran with PTSD to train their dog,” Brightman explained.
Unlike most dogs that get trained to help our wounded warriors, these dogs are rescues.
“So the veteran is rescuing the dog and the dog is rescuing the veteran,” said Brightman.
It was something that attracted veteran Jaque Acosta.
“Not only was I doing something good for somebody, but it was hope,” said Acosta.
Lead trainer Jessica Bimmerman and her demonstration dog Crickett are part of the team.
She said that having the veteran train the service dog adds an extra layer of bonding and builds pride in the veteran.
“They get that sense of accomplishment,” explained Bimmerman. “When they’re interacting with their dog, they’re seeing that the dog is responding to them and their handling and training sessions.”
The training is intense: seven months of exercises that increases the bond and focus between human and K-9.
For for Navy SEAL Jack Sterling and his rescue Echo, it’s about retaining some of the structure he had in the military and familiarity.
“We’re used to, in the military, having a battle buddy. Whatever it is you travel in pairs,” said Sterling.
“So, having a buddy to ride with you, you talking to them, they’re kind of looking at you it kind of gives you a sense of purpose being on a team, working with someone that’s not yourself. It’s subtle, but it’s powerful.”
Acosta’s service dog passed away a year ago.
“I was devastated, fell in a deep hole,” said Acosta.
That hole has since been filled with her rescue Zelda.
“Seeing the way she looks at me right now,” Acosta said. “She knows that I’m feeling something right now. That’s the connection. We’re two of the same spirit.”
And that connection makes a world of difference to our warriors who sometimes have serious problems adjusting to life after combat.
“Their confidence level out in public goes from, you know, they’re very worried when they first enter the program, not sure if they can do the program,” said Bimmerman. “And then when they graduate, they have this renewed sense of confidence. They’re not fearful.”
To a veteran and their furry partner, it’s priceless.
“When I look into her eyes and she looks back like ‘I hear you, I get it,'” said Acosta. “How do you put that into words. I don’t know.”
Brightman said Acosta and Zelda just graduated from the program last week and Sterling and Echo are well on their way.
If you would like more information about Service Dogs for Veterans or would like to donate to the program, click here.