How a service dog can be a Soldiers Best Friend

Matt Saintsing
September 26, 2018 - 3:40 pm

You’ve seen them before, those cute dogs usually wearing a vibrant jacket to let you know you can’t pet them because they’re on duty. And frustrations aside, dogs—whether they are just a pet or working diligently at their jobs—can provide a world of therapy and emotional support for those who need it. 

One such organization that connects veterans with dogs is Soldier’s Best Friend, an Arizona-based nonprofit. 

Mark, who asked his last name not be mentioned, is an Air Force veteran who, after witnessing two traumatic events, was diagnosed with PTS. While stationed in Spain in 1985, a terrorist bomb exploded killing 17 people near a U.S. air base near Madrid. Following that, an American jet crashed 20 miles outside where he lived.

Courtesy of Soldier's Best Friend

Responding to the disasters as a Security Forces airman left memories of sights, smells, and stressors that can trigger his symptoms even today. “People don’t realize that hellacious combat is happening all over the world,” he says. 

After months of planning to take his own life, in July 2015, Mark pulled the trigger. He woke up in the hospital two days later, learning the bullet exited through his nasal cavity and missed his brain entirely. “No one hears the good stories about the VA, but I owe the Prescott VA my life,” says Mark. 

He eventually adopted his dog, Pacer, through the local Humane Society in Prescott, Ariz. Pacer struggled with training and Mark was referred to Soldier’s Best Friend, which provided training at no cost to Mark. 

Indeed there were days when he didn’t want to leave his home, but knowing Pacer was counting on him gave Mark the drive to care for him. The training brought Mark discipline and consistency, something crucial when dealing with PTS. 

The VA uses evidence-based training to treat PTS, and they say there isn’t enough data to recommend a service dog for suicide prevention. But Mark says Pacer is crucial in helping him move forward.

This past July was Mark’s three year anniversary of his suicide attempt. Today, Mark lives a more stable life and has a full time job at the VA. 

“Now, I don’t even know who that man was. I am in a healthy relationship and life is fruitful,” says Mark. “I am dedicated to giving back to vets who are in the shoes I once was in. I hope they learn from my firsthand account.”

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