How my dog saved my life
I was on a dangerous road, battling PTSD. It all changed in July of 2011 when I met Bella.
Published February 19, 2013 • 1 comment
By ALAN BEAULIEU, Guest Columnist
Imagine being isolated in your own home. Windows locked, shades drawn, strategic turning on/off lights, front and back door locked. Then imagine the outside of your home, littered with motion-detector lights that could probably light up an entire street and an alarm system that is virtually impenetrable. You are a combat-veteran suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and are too afraid to leave your own home. Everything beyond your front and back door is dangerous. Nobody ever sees you because you rarely leave the house. That is the symptom of PTSD called, “isolation,” where you are too scared to go outside because of all the triggers/reminders of your experiences. This means no college, no job, no social life and no family life, just you and your mini-forward operating base.
This was the road I was dangerously traveling on with my own battle with PTSD. It all changed in July of 2011 when I met Bella. Surely, you have seen Bella and I walking around campus. I am the student with the sunglasses and a black German Shepherd with a red service-dog vest on her. Mind you, there area two patches on each side of vest that say “working dog” and “do not pet.” Please follow those.
You see, I was a bomb sniffing-dog handler in Iraq and due to back injuries I sustained, I could no longer work with my K-9 partner Cici. After turning in my leash and losing that sense of security I had with her, my mental health declined rapidly. Luckily, I had a gung-ho therapist who saw my decline and suggested I get a service dog. When I got home I emailed the non-profit organization for a service dog and was accepted and started training in July 2011.
After 6 months of training we graduated with two other dog teams (both Marines) in December of 2011. Bella is not a therapist dog, nor is she a psychiatric service dog. According to ADA regulations, to be considered a service animal, the animal must do at least three tasks that mitigate the person’s disabilities. Bella is trained to fetch things off the ground like flashlights, keys, wallet, etc. She is trained to do a “block” which consists of sitting a step ahead of me, as if she was a barrier so I could concentrate on the shelf in a store. Lastly, she is trained to do a “guard” which consists of me standing forward and her standing backwards on my right side to alarm me to anyone behind me.
However, Bella has gone way beyond the minimal three-tasks required of a service animal. She has saved my life. My world used to be secluded, shades down, and not leaving the house. Now, I can go to college and accomplish my dream of a Michigan degree. Bella allows me to have that sense of security back that was once lost. I feel more confident of the surroundings with my K-9 partner. She may not sniff bombs or bite with/without command but she sure does allow me to leave my home. She allows me to go into grocery stores, hotels, even a sporting event. Bella can sense when I am having a flashback and will come up and start rubbing her nose into my face or leg, trying to divert my attention off of the troubles and onto this beautiful black shepherd that has stuck by my side since July of 2011.
Even though my shades are still drawn and doors always locked, she is still right there with me. When the sun rises, she wakes me up for her outside break and to eat. Then I put her vest and collar on and we walk out of the door headed to some destination that I would’ve never have been able to go to without her.
You see, the mere fact that I can leave the house is just a port