Veteran adjusts to life with PTSD with the help of a well-trained pup

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Veterans Voices of Virginia: Honoring Those Who Serve

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WRIC) – Service members who have survived combat and war zones often face challenges adapting back to everyday life. Many military veterans suffer from paralyzing effects from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

One special group in Charlottesville, Virginia is helping to change lives one canine at a time.  Service Dogs of Virginia (SDV) starts training puppies and then places the dogs with those in need when the dogs are about 2 years old. 

Michelle, who served seven years in the Army, says adjusting back to civilian life has not been easy.  “For me, it’s like climbing Mount Everest every time I leave my house.”  

One veteran adjusts to life with PTSD - with the help of a well-trained pup. (Photos provided by Service Dogs of Virginia)
Michelle and her service dog, Dottie. (Photo provided by Service Dogs of Virginia)

Michelle was having trouble going out in public. Eventually, she was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

“For example, going to the grocery store is a task that I am not able to do. I am not able to go to Target. Wal-Mart, forget about it,” she explained. 

Michelle, like many veterans, has gone through a list of treatments and therapies to no avail. But then she learned about Service Dogs of Virginia.  After about a year-long wait, she was paired with Dottie, a black Labrador retriever.

“My hope for having Dottie is that I am finally able to return to a normal life again, that I am able to have a sense of normalcy back in my life,” Michelle said.  

One veteran adjusts to life with PTSD - with the help of a well-trained pup. (Photo provided by Service Dogs of Virginia)
Photo provided by Service Dogs of Virginia

But getting a service dog like Dottie is easier said than done. It costs approximately $40,000 over a two-year period to raise, train and place a successful service dog with a person in need.  That cost is never passed on to the new owner. 

“I do everything I can to raise funds. I do not pass on that cost to our clients. I write grants. We have individual donors. I get corporate sponsorships,” said Sally Day, Service Dogs of Virginia Director of Development.

Day said fundraising has been difficult, due to the coronavirus pandemic, but the organization is determined to continue the good work that they’ve been doing for over the past 10 years. “When the organizations began, they started with a waiting list because there was so much need,” she said. 

Michelle says that she hopes that by sharing her story other veterans will be inspired to ask for help. She reminds people that, “Not all wounds are visible.”

Learn more about Service Dogs of Virginia.

One veteran adjusts to life with PTSD - with the help of a well-trained pup. (Photo provided by Service Dogs of Virginia)
Photo provided by Service Dogs of Virginia

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