‘Not all wounds are visible’: Dog helps veteran cope with PTSD

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Charlottesville, Va. (WRIC) — After seven years in the Army, one Virginia veteran says adjusting back to civilian life has not been easy. 

“For me, it’s like climbing Mount Everest every time I leave my house,” said Michelle, who was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. She did not want her last name used.

But a group in Charlottesville is helping to change lives one canine at a time. 

Service Dogs of Virginia (SDV) trains puppies and then places them with those in need when the dogs are about 2 years old. 

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)

Service members who have survived combat and war zones often face challenges as they return to everyday life. Many military veterans suffer from the paralyzing effects of PTSD. 

Michelle was having trouble going out in public.

“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 SDV. 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,” she said. “That I am able to have a sense of normalcy back in my life.” 

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

To get a service dog like Dottie, it costs approximately $40,000 over a two-year period to raise, train and place the dog with a person in need. That cost is never passed on to the new owner. Rather, money is raised to cover the expenses. 

“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, SDV director of development.

Fundraising has been difficult, due to the coronavirus pandemic, Day said, but the organization is determined to continue the work they’ve been doing for over 10 years.

“When the organizations began, they started with a waiting list because there was so much need,” she said.

Michelle says she hopes her story inspires other veterans to ask for help.

“Not all wounds are visible,” she 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

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