Those of you who followed my blog Little Cottage In The Country know of my husband Rick's struggle with PTSD and TBI from his service in Iraq back in 2005 (has it been that long already?)
He applied to NEADS ( National Education for Assistance Dog Services) for a PTSD service dog,and a couple weeks ago we went down their training campus in Princeton MA so they could interview Rick and see how he interacted with a few of their dogs.
NEADS is the first assistance dog organization that Walter Reed Hospital contacted regarding service dogs for veterans,and then NEADS implemented their Canines For Combat Veterans program. They are the premiere organization in the country regarding veterans and service dogs,.Others who need dogs have to help with fundraising ( it costs $25,000 to train a dog) but vets owe nothing.
The campus is in a lovely,country setting. They have a main building,where the dogs and the administration happens,and there is also a house where folks stay when they are in training with the dogs.
Most of the folks there have service dogs,for various reasons.Some dogs are labs and golden retrievers. Some are smaller dogs.
There were three other veterans with PTSD in the morning group. That helped Rick a bit knowing that that everyone had the same issues. We first met in a group setting with the trainers,the head psychologist (who herself had a service dog),and a graduate of the PTSD program who also served in Iraq. They discussed the program,and then everyone broke off with one person for interview/discussion.
The first person we spoke with was Bill,who was the veteran. He had his dog beside him. He talked about how having a dog changed his life,and told Rick to be aware that he will "get stares" from people,because most folks only associate service dogs with someone who is blind or unable to walk.Some folks will be nice and ask questions,some will be rude because "they will think you are faking it." He told Rick how to respond to people (especially little kids) who will want to pat his dog (they can,but he has to give a command to the dog first).He told us about ADA,( Americans With Disablity Act) and how anyone who owns a business who questions him can only ask two questions:1) Is that a service dog? and 2) What is the nature of your disability? Rick asked him all about his relationship with his dog,and Bill spoke in depth about how they have such a great bond,etc. He then starting saying,"We will get your life back to you,man..." and Rick started crying. Bill was kind and said,"We're going to help you,I know what your're going through,and we are going to change your life." Rick apologized for breaking down,and Bill shook his hand and said,"Brother, I have been there.This is the beginning of a new life for you.I guarantee it."
We then met with the head psychologist who met with both of us,then Rick by himself. She was a bit concerned about this TBI,and after they met together she came out to ask me if I thought that Rick could remember the commands because "his TBI is quite pronounced." I told her that I didn't see a problem for him,and she said that she was glad I said that,because she felt he would really "benefit from this program."
We then spoke with another lady about our home life,the activities Rick does,what we have for animals,and what we needed to do to get the house ready for a dog (we needed a crate and a 20 foot enclosed run for exercise).
Rick then met four dogs,but he only worked with three: Atticus,a black lab;Richie,a black lab;and Molly,a yellow lab (they only use black and yellow labs for the PTSD program. They seem to respond the best out of all the other breeds,including chocolate labs,which I found quite interesting.Having a chocolate lab of our own,I assume it's because they are rather excitable). He gave them direction,and played with them. It was amazing to see the dogs fixate on Rick. He felt most comfortable with Richie and Molly.The trainer thought that was good,because he thought those two dogs would suffice for Rick.
We had to wait until the following week to find out if Rick got accepted into the program,and was very anxious and hopeful. The call came through,and they told Rick that everyone liked him and felt that he was the perfect candidate for the program. They also told him that his dog was going to be Richie,which he was very happy about!!
I bring him down to MA on Sunday Sept 8. I then go back to pick him up for the weekend the following Friday,and he brings Richie home with him. I then have to bring him back on Sunday for his final week of training,then pick him and Richie up Friday evening for good. We do have to go back down on occasion so they can check Richie to make sure he fed,exercised,and used properly.
Check out their website:www.neads.org.It's a fabulous place where they really care about their dogs and the people they help!