Life lessons from Thor the service dog

Lauren Warner
September 26, 2018 - 2:27 pm

Photo courtesy of Kimberly DeFiori

Service dogs are no longer a rarity, in fact seeing dogs in vests walking down the street, in classrooms or cafes has become the new norm. For the many in the veteran community, these dogs are life-savers.

One particular dog has garnered special attention online through “Lessons from Thor,” a blog run by his handler, Kimberly DeFiori. Now, not only is Thor caring for DeFiori, but she’s begun to share those life lessons with the world.

Photo courtesy of Kimberly DeFiori

Kim DeFiori's military career began at West Point, having known since tenth grade (when she watched the Twin Towers fall) that service to her country was her calling. She became a Military Police Officer and deployed to Afghanistan in 2010. DeFiori spent the next year conducting missions alongside the Afghan Police working to capture the Taliban. Eventually the trauma, plus the wear and tear that deployments often bring led to an unplanned medical retirement.

Leaving the military unexpectedly is already a difficult transition for veterans but dealing with the effects of PTSD makes the process even harder. “I knew I wanted to find a way to live independently again,” DeFiori said, “I just wasn’t sure what that looked like. [So] my therapy team helped me apply for a service dog. I was paired with Thor the day after I left the Army.”

It didn’t take long for DeFiori to test her relationship with Thor—shortly after getting out of the military, she started the fellowship program at Dog Tag Bakery and began working towards a new normal.

Photo courtesy of Kimberly DeFiori

“It was the first time I was facing the world as a civilian since I was 18,” DeFiori explains. “Thor helped me stay in the moment…I didn’t have to worry about flashbacks, panic attacks or getting grounded after triggers because I knew Thor would help me through it all.”

Thor’s training ranges from knowing how to recognize DeFiori's heightened stress levels, when to engage her (and keep her grounded) and when to wake her up from nightmares. Before Thor, DeFiori suffered with nightmares for seven years. With Thor in the picture, she was finally able to sleep. She says that Thor started showing up in her dreams and she’s no longer alone in fighting her nightmares.

“[The best thing about Thor is that] he doesn’t know he’s a dog to help with disabilities,” DeFiori says, “he knows he’s supposed to be there for one person. He was never taught that there was anything wrong with his person, just that he was the luckiest dog in the world to go everywhere with his person.”

Photo courtesy of Kimberly DeFiori

Her blog ‘Lessons from Thor’ is a way for DeFiori to share her story and impart the life lessons from her sage four-legged companion. Between blog posts, DeFiori and Thor are currently working on their M.B.A through the Cornell Johnson Graduate School of Management. In the next few years, she also plans to publish a book of her 'Lesson with Thor' to help others struggling with PTSD.

“Thor will continue to teach me to love my body and show the world the power and influence ‘people with disabilities’ can have on the world.  We are not to be pushed to the side and given a check the rest of our life,” DeFiori writes. “We are here to remind every one of their humanity and to embrace the imperfections within everyone.

For more Lessons from Thor click here.

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