While working at a military medical center, Julie, a music therapist and wife of military veteran Ryan, was introduced to the executive director of a CFC-funded organization. She kept in contact and, during this time, she learned about the organization and talked often about visiting the dogs that were in training at the end of her day. It was at about this time that Ryan was coming to terms with the fact that he had PTSD and needed help.
A few months into treatment, doctors placed Ryan on medication that altered him in ways he did not like. Julie suggested he look into the therapy dog program, since he was a dog lover. After spending a couple of days thinking about it, he decided he needed an alternative to medication and took her advice, putting in an application.
Ryan wasn’t skeptical about the idea of a canine partner. The positive effects were something he witnessed first-hand previously, when Julie had helped family friends in need connect with the organization and get their service dog, Cadence. “Seeing the positive changes that Cadence brought to the family, I knew that this was a good idea.” Ryan stated.
It took about two years from the time Ryan began the application process to the day they brought his service dog, Luke, home in February 2016. According to organization representatives, because of Ryan’s PTSD and mobility issues stemming from a lower back injury, he would need a large male Labrador, a breed that was difficult for the organization to find at the time.
That first year, Ryan went to the organization’s puppy enrichment center four times to pet and visit with new puppies. During the second year, he started meeting once a month with the organization’s personnel for training sessions where he learned commands and timing. After four months of this training, he began going to the puppy enrichment center weekly, where he worked with 12 dogs in various stages of training. One of these dogs was Luke.
The first time Ryan worked with Luke went well. He listened to Ryan’s commands and was very well-mannered. “I went home and told Julie about Luke – the cool dog I worked with that day,” Ryan says. “For the next few weeks, I worked with other dogs, and Luke every once in a while. Training sessions always seemed easier and more relaxing with Luke.”
That December, a service dog trainer met with Ryan before training one day to inform him that he and Luke worked well together and that they had been matched. After some more intensive training, Luke would officially be placed with Ryan.
Training increased to two days a week and, in the first week of February 2016, “Luke became my service dog,” Ryan said, “and I became his veteran.”
Ryan found that adjusting to life with Luke was easy. Through the first two weeks, he always had Luke tethered to him at home and at work. During this time, they stayed away from public places to help form their bond more easily.
“When I found out I would be receiving Luke, I went to my command and asked if it was okay to bring Luke to work. I was routed up the chain and within two days I was informed that it would be fine.” Ryan said, “Everyone at work was supportive, and for a month people [kept] ask[ing] ‘When is your dog coming?’”
As a result of three deployments to combat areas, Ryan has struggled with depression, anxiety, anger, suicidal thoughts, lower back pain and numbness in his right leg. Since Luke became part of his life, Ryan hasn’t been as depressed or anxious.
Luke responds to Ryan’s anxiety by nudging his leg or positioning himself between Ryan and the person he’s interacting with. “My attention shifts from the situation to Luke, where I can reward him for letting me know I am getting anxious,” Ryan explains. “He is helping me to become more self-aware at work and at home. That is so helpful in my recovery process.”