With the upcoming release of Clueless Gringos in Paradise, I am beginning to get a lot of questions about how a specially trained dog can help a returning veteran readjust to life as a civilian. First of all, and if this is controversial, well, so be it, once a man or woman has been to war, they are never again civilians. That, in essence, is a huge part of their readjustment struggle. Why do all these well-meaning people keep expecting them to behave like untrained, naive civilians? It’s not going to happen.
So, how can we civilians help the warriors in our midst? Well, first of all, obviously, we stop expecting them to be the person they were before they went to war. Life, all life, changes people. War transforms in ways non-combatants can never even imagine. My second suggestion is that, if they are so inclined, allow them a dog. A calm, steady, watch-their-back big, mutha of a dog.
Just stroking a dog’s neck pumps a slew of calming chemicals into the blood. For all of us, it works like this. We’re made to touch and stroke and receive and give comfort. So, first of all, yes, a service dog gives comfort. But a PTSD dog does far more than that. My experience with these specially trained dogs comes from living with my husband and his service dog, Chesty. Let me share with you how Chesty changed Jack’s life.
- · When Jack began to get anxious in a crowd or a particular situation, Chesty demanded that Jack focus his attention on his dog. Chesty would lean into Jack, press against him, paw at his leg, crawl into his lap, whine, and in extreme cases, jump up, plant both feet on Jack’s shoulders and as much as say, “Let’s go Boss. I’ve got your back and we need to boogie on out of here.” Jack would look into his dog’s eyes, take that moment to refocus, and they’d leave the situation.
- · In a restaurant or movie theater or anyplace where Jack could not sit with his back to a wall, the dog bumped his leg gently to say, “Someone coming up behind you, boss. I got this.”
- · When Jack had night terrors, the dog woke him, his furry face in his, a best friend who was fast enough to escape harm from swinging fists, big enough to provide comfort.
Chesty allowed Jack to go out in public, watched his back and calmed his anxiety. Forty years after his war ended, the dog changed Jack’s life, helped bring him home.