Tuesday, August 17, 2010


"Healing is a coming to terms with things as they are, rather than struggling to force them to be as they once were, or as we would like them to be."
~Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D.


Stephanie was in the rehab gym when I first met her with Gracie, my therapy dog. Her severely burned hand was being treated and massaged by one of the occupational therapists. One side of her face had been burned and her ear disfigured. Her leg had also been injured and was immobilized by a fixator with external rods.

This brave young woman had been building a bridge with her fellow soldiers in Balad.  This made her a pretty  decent target for the insurgents, and the suicide bomber that targeted the motor pool. Even with the grenade launcher she carried, it was still too late. She was pulled from her burning vehicle by a comrade.

Scratching Gracie's tummy,  twenty five year old Stephanie talked of her two tours of duty in Iraq, and the very real possibility of losing her foot, I couldn’t help but think of the ‘role models’ our young women have that are about the same age, glamorizing alcohol, drugs, fashion, and expensive cars, while this young woman is hoping to get back to Iraq for a third deployment to fight for our freedom. In this country that often idolizes the wrong things, the wrong values, Stephanie is the true hero and without question should be a role model for all of us.

With a golden stuffed puppy dog next to the pillow on her hospital bed this young woman defined courage as she defied the odds. She hadn’t lost hope of keeping her foot,  as she said, “It is just a foot. It’s not a big deal. Others have lost much more. At least I know I can walk again.” As she uttered those words,  I was reminded of a thousand dollar pair of shoes I had just seen in the window of a very expensive designer shoe store in Houston.

She continued petting Gracie, and asked if she could show her something. She struggled to reach under her bed for several small boxes. She opened each one carefully, and showed Gracie four Saint Christopher pendants for each of the children, belonging to the soldier who had saved her life. For him, a beautiful gold pocket watch. Her only concern was that there wasn’t enough room on the back of the watch to say all she wanted to say to him. “How do you thank someone for saving your life?”  Her next goal was to go to North Carolina to meet him and thank him in person.
Stephanie’s mood changed as she spoke to little Gracie. It was apparent she felt safe in her presence and able to open up. As they snuggled on the bed, I couldn't help but wonder if Stephanie snuggles and talks to her stuffed puppy next to her pillow at night. This wouldn’t make her any less courageous. It would make her more human.

While she was whispering to Gracie, gently stroking her ears, she became oblivious to my presence. With Gracie, she didn't have to be clever, talkative, or witty.  Having that permission, allowed her to relax. Her breathing slowed and relaxed to almost a meditative state.

Our PTSD Support Dogs seem to have a sensitivity and an intuitive ability to sense if their patients are happy, sad, want to play, or simply be left alone. With them the warriors are able to reveal themselves in complete honesty. The dog provides a mirror back to them, whatever the mood or the circumstance, they have the ability to be more keenly aware than we will ever understand.

I have seen it over and over again. Patients see the dogs and immediately begin talking to them. Who is on the other end of the leash is often unimportant. This is as it should be. For in this time and place of intentional healing, having a friend visit that doesn’t look at them with sympathy, judgment, or requirements is pretty remarkable. With nurses, doctors, therapists, and even family members, there is always something being asked of them.

Sometimes healing for a wounded soldier might just begin by putting ‘Take a Nap’ and Snuggle the Dog’ at the top of their To Do list.



In this program, shelter dogs will be specially selected, rescued and obedience trained for a donation to a warrior with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, as a Comfort/Support Dog.

Your contribution will make a difference.

$250.00 will help sponsor our first dog for a very special Marine with severe PTSD and two TBI's (Traumatic Brain Injuries).

Please send to:
Penny's From Heaven Foundation, Inc.
13423 Blanco Road, Suite 218
San Antonio, TX 78216

No comments:

Post a Comment