Thursday, September 30, 2010

THE BOLDEST CHEERLEADER


"He has taught me the meaning of devotion.  With him, I know a secret comfort and a private peace.  He has brought me understanding where before I was ignorant.  His head on my knee can heal my human hurts.  His presence by my side is protection against my fears of dark and unknown things.  He has promised to wait for me, whenever, wherever, in case I need him.  And I expect I will, as I always have.  He is my dog."
~Unknown

In everything that happens to us there is always that one person who is our boldest cheerleader. When we get stuck in the 'why, our road to healing also gets stuck.  We all need a cheerleader, someone who believes in us and can help us get unstuck.  It is then that we discover the wings of friendship, as together we dig deep through the loneliness and sorrows and stresses of life.  This is no different from the bond between a wounded warrior and his dog.

"What a difference you've made in my life.  You're my sunshine day and night...you replaced all the broken parts...what a change you have made in my heart...what a difference you've made in my life..."
Amy Grant

Cloudy genetics aren't an issue. Fine qualities are.  Sensitive, people-focused and hyper-observant dogs are qualities that are looked for in a potential PTSD Support Dog.  We look for dogs who are able to untie the invisible threads that knot our wounded warriors.  Multi-dimensional dogs, if you will.  Not bad qualities for pound puppies! Our warriors want to rescue something and rescuing they are, as their future PTSD Support Dogs are being saved from kill shelters.  These are dogs who ultimately must remain highly obedient, calm, and unfailingly predictable in situations that can get chaotic in seconds. 

Often our warriors returning home go from the battlefield one day to McDonalds the next.  Perhaps, just perhaps, rescuing a shelter dog to rescue a soldier is part of the answer to reintegration. Train a Dog - Save a Warrior! 
"It is a curious thing in human experience but to live through a period of stress and sorrow with another person creates a bond which nothing seems able to break."
~Eleanor Roosevelt

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Please consider helping us help a warrior, by sponsoring a PTSD Support Dog rescued from the dog pound.

For information please call:
210 273 6471

http://www.pennysfromheavenfoundation.org/
http://www.tadsaws.org/  (under construction)







A DOG NAMED PAXIL

PREVENTION MAGAZINE indicated in a recent article that "pets can reduce your use of meds. New research shows that owning an animal is an even more powerful way to cultivate calm than previously thought. An astonishing 82% of PTSD patients paired with a service dog reported a significant reduction in symptoms, and 40% were able to decrease their medications, in an ongoing study at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

The specially trained pooches can sense, before their owners do, when a panic attack is coming, and then give them a nudge to start some preemptive deep breathing. "While we don't yet understand why, we know the dogs' presence affects serotonin levels and the immune system," says lead study researcher Craig Love, PhD. "The animals are so helpful, one soldier named her dog Paxil."

As I read this, I was somewhat startled at information I have known all along.  Perhaps startled because someone else 'gets' it too - finally!  Dogs helping to heal invisible wounds.  Mine always have, so why is this a surprise? As one warrior with PTSD told me in reference to his dog, "This is the hardest, best thing I ever had.  My dog makes me smile when I don't want to." I recalled a quote from Ecclesiastes, "A faithful friend is the medicine of life." 

As the warriors with PTSD pass through my days, I understand.  To be witness to their dogs' intentional motivation of loving and being loved, it isn't difficult to grasp.  The responses of the courageous young men and women to their dogs is overpowering.  These are guys and gals who laid their lives on the line, who took the bullets, who fought the fight, and paid the price.  Yet in the presence of their dog, they turn into children with their first puppy.  They have connected to something greater than themselves.  For in just a single moment, that cannot be explained, they feel safe, loved, and not so empty or lost.

Dogs touch hearts in a way that defies all logical explanation.  And yet somehow it is explained clearly.  Tom Davis in "Why Dogs Do That" says, "There are no strings attached, no riders, or special stipulations; there's no fine print, no expiration date, no statute of limitations.  They (dogs) love to a depth and degree that few of us, I fear, reciprocate."

Sometimes for a wounded warrior with his or her dog hope appears.  It appears to give them courage, to do that thing that makes them afraid.

I find myself remembering my time with the warriors with PTSD in snapshot like moments.  Struggles, tears, fears, courage, and smiles are often too powerful to fully comprehend.  They are forceful, strong, intense, turbulent and ardent snapshots, never to be forgotten or taken for granted.

As I asked one soldier how he was doing, he said from a place deep within his heart and with great purpose and overwhelming simplicity, "Just fine now that 'Kelsie' is here." With a dog by their sides those mountains aren't quite as hard to climb.  With a dog by their sides working to get back up after circumstances have kicked them down, whether physical or mental, there may just be times when they, as we all, have to learn to crawl again, one step at a time. 

The wounds our warriors have will become a part of who they are.  It is those who are courageous that will become victorious; those who press forward, often one grueling step at a time.  They will be blessed to find they are stronger, more compassionate, more loving, more understanding, more giving and in the end will receive more than they ever imagined.  So if a dog named "Paxil," with intuitive and endearing ways, provides a bit of hope and help in whatever mystical way he does...who am I to question it?

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"Just living is not enough.  One must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower."

~Hans Christian Anderson

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PLEASE HELP US HELP A WOUNDED WARRIOR WITH THE INVISIBLE WOUND OF PTSD!



A tax deductible donation of one thousand dollars will sponsor a dog team. 
It will make a difference and it will change a life.
100% of the donation goes directly to provide a dog for a wounded warror.

PENNY'S FROM HEAVEN FOUNDATION, INC.
13423 BLANCO ROAD
SUITE 218
SAN ANTONIO, TX 78216

210 273 6471

Saturday, September 25, 2010

REASONS AND SEASONS

There isn't a doubt in my mind that people, and pets, come into our lives for reasons and seasons! To teach us lessons perhaps, bring substance and joy, and sometimes to change our lives forever.  

'Kingsley,' with a white cross on his chest, is a special dog, a blessed dog, and, about to be, a lifelong blessing.  His history who knows.  His future extraordinary.  He has been described as having a 'gentle soul.'

He was a rescue from the dog pound.  Rescued because of his personality and potential. He lived in a foster home and now is in training to be a Penny's From Heaven Foundation TADSAW (Train a Dog - Save a Warrior) program PTSD Support Dog.  He is the first in the program and a life lesson for a soldier in great need.  Kingsley was spared for a reason and a season.


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"People come into your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime.

When someone is in your life for a REASON,

it is usually to meet a need you have expressed.

They have come to assist you through a difficulty;

to provide you with guidance and support;

to aid you physically, emotionally or spiritually.

They may seem like a godsend, and they are.

They are there for the reason you need them to be. ~  Author Unknown

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Emily Dickinson said, "To live is so startling, it leaves little time for anything else."  To a soldier with PTSD, Kingsley will be the catalyst for inner things to begin to change in a startling fashion. This dog, once unwanted, will take care of moments of fear, anxiety, panic, flashbacks from the nightmares of war.  With this dog by his side, 'his' soldier might not think so much of the past and might settle into the everlasting present and future. 

"The future is like the daytime moon, a diffident but faithful companion, so elegant as to be almost invisible, an inconspicuous marvel."  ~Robert Grudin


It is said that time is a great healer, and so is a dog close by the side of a wounded warrior. Thomas Holcroft said it perfectly, "The past is a guide post, not a hitching post."  These warriors facing the horrors of PTSD with a dog by their sides just might find the path out a little brighter, the journey a little less frightening, and the nights less tortured and bitter.  We are all afraid of fear, we're afraid of becoming afraid, scared of being scared.  Fears can escalate into terror.  And terror into paralyzing inertia.  But Kingsley won't accept that.  He is already trained to put his foot on the foot of 'his' soldier to bring him back to reality, making fear a mere blip on the radar screen.  Kingsley is like a boy scout, always ready to take over. He is being trained to be prepared.  For fear requires action and this dog with the white cross on his chest knows just what to do. 

Fear, for at least one wounded warrior with PTSD, might find itself retreating. And a soldier might find himself not shaking, when a paw on his foot delivers a message of safety and comfort from a black dog nobody wanted.

"One word frees us of all the weigh and pain of life.
That word is love."
~Sophocles



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YOUR SUPPORT IN HELPING US HELP A WARRIOR IS DEEPLY APPRECIATED.

TO SPONSOR A PTSD SUPPORT DOG FOR A WARRIOR WITH PTSD IS $1,000.00

DONATIONS MAY BE SENT TO:

PENNY'S FROM HEAVEN FOUNDATION
13423 BLANCO ROAD ~ SUITE 218
SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS 78248

http://www.tadsaw.org/  (under construction).

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

MOMENTS OF UNSUNG COURAGE

Walking on this journey, we sometimes have to have a 'backup.'  We get exhausted, discouraged, anxious and sometimes very sad.  Our wounded warriors are certainly no exception. But the question is, do we, do they, surrender to the sorrow.  Our warriors with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder find that PTSD grabs them with its claws, pins them down, tears at their flesh, and pierces their hearts. 
Lewis B. Smedes said, "The pain of one chapter, becomes the scar of the next."  We carry the wounds of one chapter into the next. For our warriors, PTSD often defines, and becomes, who they are.  They are their stories, and that includes the parts of them that they are not often able to control.  The ugly sides, the crazy sides, the out of control sides, the irrational sides. We all know that at some time or another, it is our destiny to suffer.  But that doesn't make it any easier a pill to swallow. 

So how do these invisibly wounded warriors nudge into the next chapter of their story? Can we make their journey a little bit easier or is it possible? 

The deal is, tell me I can't do something, and I will do everything I can to prove you wrong. I know, we all know there will be unanticipated stops and detours along the way.  And I guess in reality, all of life is an adjustment to the unplanned and the unanticipated.  But perhaps the essence of life lies in the not knowing.  What else I do know is that everything that happens to us makes a difference and changes us.  Our journeys are filled with surprises. And sometimes a surprise can be a grace!

In school, I had to write a paper on Nathaniel Hawthorne.  I dearly remember one quote in particular, "Happiness is a butterfly, which when pursued is just beyond your grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you."  Such it is with our wounded warriors in search of peace from the terrors of PTSD when a little dog lands in their laps and their hearts.

This can be a great moment of unsung courage, that can provide a safe place and a shelter where their best friend is by their side, loving them, listening to them, not judging them, caring for them unconditionally, and creating a deep bond with them, as they look to build a bridge over the pain to the other side.   This pain is an opportunity to discover who they really are on an uncharted journey they would never take on our own.   I wish I could share with 'my' soldiers that we are all perfectly imperfect and that we all need someone to lean on.  This message will come  to them, but not always in a straight line.  Life conspires to help us when it is time.  I suppose that there is a kind of grace in suffering, if we can realize that there is a place between 'no longer' and 'not yet'.  And if , in that space between the notes we just might find the music that helps us go on.  Eric Hoffer said, "It is loneliness that makes the loudest noise. This is true of men as of dogs."

Abandonment is a universal fear.  But with a fuzzy magnet by our sides we will never be abandoned. An email from a deployed soldier to Guardian Angels for Soldier's Pets was forwarded to me.  "I wanted to drop a line and thank all of you that volunteer to help us out.  Not to be dark or morbid, but we are suffering from the worst loss of service members lives AFTER deployment than we ever have.  I know my 'baby' (his dog) makes a difference in my world, so when you open up your home (for one of our pets) you TRULY make a difference.  I simply ask you to help spread the word and open more homes and donate for the only piece of sanity that some of us have to come home to."

So as you open your door to your little furry 'piece of sanity'when you come home from work or the grocery store, think how it makes you feel to curl up on the sofa with your best friend by your side, asking nothing but to simply be able to sit next to you and put his head on your lap.  Life is a classroom.  Whether you learn or not is optional.  But our soldiers are trying their best to stay in the ring and fight for their lives, as they fought for ours.  Isn't it time we helped them?  It just might be a crisis gone horribly right!

Visiting a soldier in the hospital with my therapy dog clinched the deal when he said, "It is like an angel has come to visit." 

So to our returning warriors: If the door to your dream is closed, build a new one!  And if the drama of the recovery takes a lifetime, it is a whole lot better with a dog by your side, as you reinvent a new way of being.  A dog that will teach you compassion, patience,  tolerance, trust and, respect and is guaranteed to keep your heart open. We all have to make it up as we go, and do, and be, the best that we can be. 

When I asked a soldier where he was going when he was released, his response was, "I don't know."  I guarantee  had he a dog waiting in the wings, he would have known exactly where he was going to his little piece of sanity. Perhaps a dog just could be the answer to patching the cracks that previously could not be repaired.


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"It is in the shelter of each other, that people live."
~Irish Proverb


 
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“I wanted a perfect ending. Now I’ve learned, the hard way, that some poems don’t rhyme, and some
stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next.” 
~Gilda Radner

Monday, September 20, 2010

HELPING OTHERS CRY

Author and lecturer Leo Buscaglia once talked about a contest he was asked to judge.  The purpose of the contest was to find the most caring child.  The winner was a four year old child.  His next door neighbor was an elderly gentleman who had recently lost his wife.  Upon seeing the man crying, the little boy went into the man's yard, climbed onto his lap and just sat there.  When his mother asked him what he had said to the neighbor, the little boy just said, "Nothing, I just helped him cry."

Sometimes that is the only, and the best thing, we can do.  We may want to throw something, hit something, go hide in the woods, explode, scream, anything to take away the pain of the person we love and feel helpless to help.  So it is with our wounded warriors.  And so it is with their nurses who care for them night and day, nurses who come to see the spirit and indefatigable courage of each of them.  But sometimes all they can do is sit with them and 'help them cry.'

But who helps them?  Who is there to help them cry when the burden becomes too heavy.  Perhaps it is a nurse like Soo who whispered to me, "I have waited and waited all day for Kelsie. This is the best part of my day. Thank you for bringing her." 

The nurses too are the unsung heroes.  Clara Barton, a pioneer American nurse, was credited with reaching soldiers in some of the grimmest battlefields of the Civil War.  She later organized the Red Cross through stubborn sacrifice and real dedication. Today's nurses and medical staff are no different, balancing objectivity with compassion on battlefields of a different sort. 

Badly burned warriors can often be in the Intensive Care Burn Unit at BAMC for months.  When Marine Sgt Merlin German arrived at BAMC from Iraq, he had burns over 97% of his body.  He spent more than 500 days in the hospital.  He had a 3% chance of survival.  His t-shirt said, "Got 3% chance of surviving; What ya gonna do?" The back lists four options: "a. Fight Through. b. Stay Strong. c. Overcome Because I Am A Warrior. d. All Of The Above!" The last one was circled. 


Nurses and staff in the burn unit are reminded, by talking with loved ones and looking at photos they tack up on the walls,  that there is a person beneath the bandages. It is hard to not become attached.  The nurses come to know the families of the severely burned warriors, as if they are their own.  These nurses have to 'fight through,' 'stay strong' and 'overcome,' because they too are warriors. They spend hours dressing wounds and being there to 'help their patients cry.'  Treating burns mixed with lost limbs, decimated bones, muscles, and nerves are also a war fought on a different battlefield by nurses and staff.  For them it is the fight of their lives as well.

And sometimes, just sometimes, a break from the battle is a dog that appears, seemingly out of no where, to snuggle and help the staff release some of tremendous stress they are faced with daily. 

For me there is nothing more noble than people that go to war to save. With their hands and their hearts they serve their warriors with amazing skill and a level of caring  that is rarely rewarded or recognized.  Perhaps it is because there is no way to reward commensurate with the service rendered. It just might be beyond our capacity to understand that they too are paying the price for freedom.

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PLEASE HELP US HELP A WARRIOR

TRAIN A DOG - SAVE A WARRIOR

$1,000.00 WILL SPONSOR A DOG FOR A WOUNDED WARRIOR.

PLEASE SEND TAX DEDUCTIBLE DONATIONS TO:
PENNY'S FROM HEAVEN FOUNDATION, INC.
13423 BLANCO ROAD ~ SUITE 218
SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS 78216

Sunday, September 19, 2010

WHAT IT TAKES TO LIVE WITH COURAGE

"It always seems impossible until its done."
~Nelson Mandela

In any moment we may pray for courage.  "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.  For Thou art with me.  Thy rod and Thy staff they encourage me... "(Psalm 23). 

But where and how does this power get inside the human heart?  I quote from Lewis B. Smedes in a Pretty Good Person. "I have watched a longshot filly with undistinguished bloodlines languish behind a whole field of horses for a full turn, caught in the seventh or eighth place, where the smart money expected her to finish.  Then, having given nobody a hint of what she had in her, she makes a run for it.  She surges, her slender legs pounding into the turf, pushing the massive barrel of her body through the thick of the pack.  Her neck and her head pull her glistening chestnut bulk forward with heroic, rhythmic lunges.  She reaches the leaders and then, with a final fury, finishes a fine nostril ahead of the pack."

To many this may be generated by what horse people call 'heart.'  It just could be the same power that holds our warriors on their feet and keeps them fighting.  Perhaps this kind of courage comes from an animal instinct.  Smedes continues, "Courageous people will do what they know they have to do....the power of the heart resides in the will."  Socrates taught that a person finds courage by having it taught to him.  But courage is 'neither natural nor taught,' he said.  But comes to us 'by divine dispensation.'

So this animal instinct, as well as will power, and faith, could be where our warrior's courage is born.  To them courage comes alive in action.  Our warrior's courage can be shown many ways, shapes, and forms.  But none so great as when they come home and find that the burden of living is sometimes a larger burden than they can handle.

It can take great courage to to look these burdens in the face and persevere. And then there are the times when our warriors coming home with invisible wounds find a friend by their sides that will allow them to celebrate the life they have. Life isn't quite so bleak when joined in comradeship with a dog that doesn't judge what you look like, and doesn't care.  A dog that will lay by your side when you are having a horrific migraine, a dog who will not turn away for fear of not knowing what to say because of your disfigured face, a dog that doesn't endlessly ask questions or put conditions or demands on you, and a dog who will face PTSD head on with you and have your back at all times, good and bad.

A PTSD Support Dog allows our warriors with this invisible wound to live with some hope in a society that sometimes appears to discourage people who have disabilities. 

Our warrior's courage is often a gamble with life, but with a dog by their sides as they walk through the shadows, they are able to affirm life in the midst of their daily demons.  The dictionary defines courage as 'facing danger without fear.'  As Smedes so aptly wrote, "Only people who are afraid have courage.  Fear is to courage what breathing in is to breathing out." 

To a wounded warrior a dog offers hope.  A kind of hope that doesn't come from anything or anyone else.  Hope can give them a second chance and hope can give them courage to do what they are afraid to do.  And suddenly they find they don't have to do it alone.



" Pain is weakness leaving the body."
~ Tom Sobal



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PLEASE HELP US HELP A WARRIOR WITH PTSD

TRAIN A DOG - SAVE A WARRIOR
$1,000.00 WILL PROVIDE SPONSORSHIP FOR A PTSD SUPPORT DOG FOR A WOUNDED WARRIOR WITH THIS DEVASTATING INVISIBLE WOUND!

SEND TAX DEDUCTIBLE DONATIONS TO:
PENNY'S FROM HEAVEN FOUNDATION
13423 BLANCO ROAD ~ SUITE 218
SAN ANTONIO, TX 78248





Wednesday, September 15, 2010

A VERY GOOD LISTENER

Sometimes our own dogs are our best medicine, for as long as we are blessed to have them by our sides. Such is the case with Bak, a Belgian Malinois/Yellow Lab Military Working Dog (MWD) stationed at Randolph Air Force Base in San Antonio who “conducts health, morale and welfare inspections.” In addition to demonstrating the capabilities of a dual certified patrol and narcotic detector dog, Bak also conducts random vehicle inspections at the gates to deter the presence of contraband.


But Bak has had another equally important, yet more personal, job. According to his handler Staff SGT. Nathan C. from the 12th Security Forces Military Working Dog section, Bak “is the cheapest therapist there is.” In his twenties, Nathan was diagnosed with cancer. He was understandably frightened because his grandmother and dad had both died of the disease. Five days after his diagnosis he had surgery, and the next day, against doctor’s advice, he went to the kennels to see Bak, just to let him know he was okay. “Bak is a good listener.” With his special friend and comrade, Nathan was taught the meaning of comfort and that a head on your knee can heal unbelievable hurts.


Bak has given Nathan hope and kept him positive. The encouragement and support from this very special dog has allowed Nathan to educate people that cancer doesn’t discriminate. He has also taught Nathan that our companion dogs don’t condition their love and affection. As for the cancer he wants to spread the word, “No matter what age you are, you are not immune.” He is also first to admit that to him "there is nothing more valuable on the face of this planet than Bak. The two and a half years we have been together he has been my best friend. We’ve never had an argument and he has never said, ‘No Dad, I don’t want to.’”


Nathan and Bak are now separated, deployed to different locations. But within their story courage, greatness and devoted love of country and dog is revealed.

Some of us get by with a little help from our friends and then some of us are literally saved by them.





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To live in this world you must be able to do three things: to love what is mortal; to hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it; and, when the times comes to let it go,
to let it go.
~Mary Oliver~

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Your help in helping us help our wounded warriors is always appreciated.

TRAIN A DOG - SAVE A WARRIOR
1,000 WILL SPONSOR A SUPPORT DOG FOR OUR WOUNDED WARRIORS WITH POST TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER.

PLEASE SEND DONATIONS OF ANY SIZE TO:
PENNY'S FROM HEAVEN FOUNDATION, INC.
 13423 BLANCO ROAD, SUITE 218
SAN ANTONIO, TX 78216

WE ARE A NOT FOR PROFIT ORGANIZATION













Tuesday, September 14, 2010

WHEN WAR COMES HOME

It is true and honest that those we meet change us.  Sometimes profoundly, and we are never the same again. 

Sometimes we balance and sometimes we don't.   Sometimes we break and have to heal.  Hearts break and lives break, and healing will take as long as it takes.  We are all seeking a magic formula for passage from the place we are to the place we want to be.  There is no magic formula.

The question is no different for our wounded warriors.  My question is do we see wounded warriors or warriors with wounds when war comes home?  It is often impossible to understand PTSD.  For forty years veterans have been told to 'get over it.' According to one Vietnam veteran "the deal is, it's got me.  I don't have it.  Don't tell me to get over it."

For a soldier named Joe, Bella walked in with angels on her shoulders.  This Australian Shepherd follows Joe with love.  She a rescue, and he a wounded warrior with PTSD, together they are a team.  Since Bella entered his life, he is sleeping for three hours a night and  not experiencing nightmares or flashbacks.  To him this is huge!  It has been years since he slept longer than three hours a night without the invasion of terror. Fear has kept him denying his emotions.  Fear of awakening to war once again.  But Bella is now under the covers, snuggling close to this soldier whose emotions are awakening once again.  He is now hoping for four hours of sleep in a row.

Why is it we take moments for granted?  What is it, this sense of urgency to have more, be more, do more?  Henry David Thoreau hit the nail on the head when he said, "Why should we live with such hurry and waste of life?  We are determined to be starved before we are hungry." 

How are we available to those who need us the most, if we are so absorbed in our own chaos and frenzy?  How do we hear the voices and stories of our soldiers coming home?  How can we be present for them, if we can't be present for ourselves. 

The wounded warriors for the most part 'get it,' despite their battles that are just beginning when they come home. They know what is precious and what isn't.  Time and time again they tell me it makes them crazy to see the small insignificant things that upset us. We have no idea! 

We lose contact with friends, we wave to neighbors we don't know, we don't smile for fear someone takes it the wrong way, we don't look at the blue sky with wonder anymore, and we don't get a lump in our throats at the song of a bird or an old couple dancing.  We don't marvel at a baby's smile or puppy breath.  We don't relinquish the control of time for fear we miss something.  We are consumed yet still hungry.  Satiated, yet empty.  We are living, but living far away from the understanding that each day, each precious moment is a gift, not a commodity to be spent or wasted or something saved for later.  We are living disconnected from what enlivens our souls.  A deep appreciation for the times of our lives is becoming more subdued and vague.  As we fill ourselves with distractions and toys and noise and frivolous activities and actions, we fail to hear the whispers of our world and our hearts and those that love us the most.  We fail to see the signals that are deep inside that will guide us, nourish us, protect us, and ensure we are living the best life we can.

Perhaps this is the lesson, the magic formula for passage, we must learn from Joe and a little dog named Bella when war comes home.

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Please help us support more Joe's and Bella's through our TRAIN A DOG - SAVE A WARRIOR PROGRAM.

600.00 WILL PROVIDE SPONSORSHIP FOR ONE TEAM. 


PENNY'S FROM HEAVEN FOUNDATION
13423 BLANCO ROAD ~ SUITE 218
SAN ANTONIO, TX 78216

Our website accepts paypal and credit cards..

You will never do anything more worthwhile!



Sunday, September 12, 2010

YOU'RE NOT MEANT TO DO IT ALL

"You're not meant to do it all!"  This is posted on my desk, and I, as do many, need to grasp the deep implication, consequence, and reality of these few simple words.

But how do we keep it so simple?  We all get caught up in the big picture. Then sometimes there is that moment, in a conversation of significance, when it occurs to us that we cannot do it alone.  We may have a health concern, a personal problem, or we may have a friend or loved one just returning from war that is difficult to understand, with disturbing changes to his or her personality. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder seems to have taken control of every aspect of their life.

According to the VetCenter Readjustment Counseling Service, "PTSD is an acute stress response that becomes stuck in the 'on' position.  In many cases the brain causes the entire system to go into a highly aroused state, causing the warrior to be on the lookout for even the slightest hint of a traumatic event similar to the one that produced the extreme stress reaction in the first place. Symptoms have various patterns.  Arousal with sleeplessness, hyper-vigilance, jumpiness, and restlessness. Intrusive symptoms with mental replays and nightmares where the person sees, hears, feels, smells, and even tastes aspects of the event that appears real, vivid, and frightening.  Avoidance symptoms result in shutting off one's emotions and the world." PTSD is as individual as a fingerprint.

Wounded warrior after wounder warrior tells me that his dog is quite literally more important to him that anyone else in his or her life.  The reality is, more often than not, this is true. Some wives or husbands and family members understand and accept this, some don't. This doesn't make the warrior any less in need of understanding and support, but more so. It makes them more human. It is said that 'there is nothing harder than loving a soldier.'

Healing is the goal.  Sometimes this healing comes with a very different type of medicine that provides a healing and safe environment.

A physician just back from six months in Afghanistan told me in a phone conversation that, "I couldn't have made it without my dogs.  Humans always have a condition. The dog is the drug, the dog is the magic bullet, an angel, a companion, a substitute child, the dog is everything. I have been given a gift of seeing how fragile life really is.  I feel lost, alone, and angry.  I saw things I never imagined were possible to do to another human being.  I prefer to be with my dogs. I know this is hard to explain, but this has been the best and the worst experience of my life."

All too often I hear the same thing.  But as she continued talking what she told me left me breathless. "I know these dogs make a difference.  As an anesthesiologist, the first, the very first question most of these combat wounded 'boys' asked after they were blown up was 'where is my dog.' The first thing they asked."

I cried with her on the phone, as she said she has a hard time coming home to the 'bull' that she sees in other young men and women who know nothing and could care less about sacrifice and duty and service. "What they find important disgusts me. I have my legs.  I have my arms.  I believe in my dog Patch."

She called me a hero and told me how she respects what I do. She wants to give back to these 'boys' and help Penny's From Heaven Foundation, Inc.  in anyway possible.  I just shook my head.  "I just want these boys to have a dog."

So in the end maybe I am not meant to do it all.  But I'm going to try.  You see, I have been given a gift too.  I have no choice.
********************

Please help us help our military returning with PTSD.
TRAIN A DOG - SAVE A WARRIOR
PENNY'S FROM HEAVEN FOUNDATION, INC.
13423 BLANCO ROAD
SUITE 218
SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS 78216

$600.00 will train a dog for a soldier with PTSD.










Friday, September 10, 2010

TEN DAYS OF AGONY

"We tend to think of the rational as a higher order, but it is emotional that marks our lives.  One often learns more from ten days of agony than from ten years of contentment."
~Merle Shain

"Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars."
 ~Kahlil Gibran

"There is something beautiful about all scars of whatever nature.  A scar means the hurt is over, the wound is closed and healed, done with."
~Harry Crews


We can stare at the horrors experienced that day.  We can learn to live with what happened that day.  We can sympathize for those that lost loved ones that day.  We can shake our heads in disbelief, as we listen to the names of those who died that day.  But one thing we must never do is forget that day.

September 11th.  It was a day that changed you and me.  Daily I see the anger, resolve, and the dedication in those that joined in 'counter attacks' in Iraq and Afghanistan.  And daily I see the results of war.  I see  young men and women, warriors of all branches, scarred in one manner or another from fighting so that we can have our political opinions, and we can say what we want and not be killed for it.   For them we are grateful. 

Tragically, the effort to make America and the world safer and to defend freedom is not without an enormous cost to this country, a loss of lives, and many who will always bear the scars and wounds of war. Then  there are times when something quite unique might assist in helping to lessen the scars of war.   Max Lucado said, Friendship isn't about who you have known the longest...but about who came and never left your side."

Medicine is a treatment not a cure.  Improving the quality of a wounded warrior's life, and taking a big step toward wholeness once again, might just be found close by his side. 

****************

"One man scorned and covered with scars still strove with his last ounce of courage to reach the unreachable stars: and the world will be better for this."
~Miguel de Cervantes

*********
We ask for your financial assistance in helping us help our wounded warriors with PTSD. 


TRAIN A DOG - SAVE A WARRIOR PROJECT


A dog is trained to be a PTSD comfort and support dog for a Marine, Airman, Soldier or Navy man or woman.  a Six hundred dollar TAX DEDUCTIBLE DONATION covers the sponsorship.  We have 5 dogs in training in the program and 5 wounded warriors.  We have 10 on the waiting list.  Please help us help them.
PENNY'S FROM HEAVEN FOUNDATION, INC.
13423 Blanco Road ~ Suite 218
San Antonio, TX 78216


Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A DOG NAMED COCOA

Sometimes we find love and the very best medicine right under our noses.

*******************

"Being able to have my four legged best friend by my side through this training is just an amazing thing. She has always been there for me and been able to help me as a comfort dog. After this training she will always be able to be by my side. I will not have to worry so much about  what I am about to do because of a panic attack. I will know I have Cocoa by my side to help me through my everyday tasks I found difficult to do before. I won’t always worry and be on guard, because I will have my best friend by my side."

SFC Andrew's words came from his heart on the eve of his first training class for his rescue dog Cocoa to become his certified PTSD Support Dog through Penny's From Heaven Foundation's TRAIN A DOG - SAVE A WARRIOR PROGRAM.  Diagnosed with TBI/PTSD Andrew had not been able to drive a vehicle since his vehicle was 'hit' by an IED in Iraq two years ago.  That is until the night of his first dog training class.  This night he drove!  He and Cocoa together navigated forty five minutes in a rain storm in rush hour traffic alone.  He did have a mild flashback,"...but I looked at Cocoa snuggled close to me on the front seat and she looked up at me and seemed to be telling me that I was going to be okay."  Anxiety and paranoia dissipated. All because of a seventy-seven pound four year old Chocolate Lab!

Perhaps the lesson here is that sometimes we have to embrace what we already have.  And sometimes that just might be that we have to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and put our love and trust in a dog named Cocoa. Cocoa makes Andrew feel more alive, more independent, more the guy he was before he went to Iraq.  Andrew is smart.  He is paying attention to the messages in his life.  He is awakening and no longer allowing fear to control his emotions.  Cocoa listens and understands. 




Together they are beginning the journey toward recovery and coping with PTSD and TBI, one step at a time.  For Andrew, recovery is a mindset, a decision.  Together they will accomplish great things. And I believe that were he to write a list of the one hundred things he loves most, Cocoa would be at the top.

"Peace begins with a smile."
~Mother Teresa

Monday, September 6, 2010

"...sometimes ya gotta do....what ya gotta do to make a little dog feel bigger"

There are a myriad of working dogs - seizure detection dogs, search and rescue dogs, bomb dogs, cadaver dogs, guide dogs, hearing ear dogs, dogs for autistic children, PTSD support dogs, Military Working Dogs, and more. Dogs, whose mission it is to heal or to assist, are well trained and perform the job to perfection, assisting humans to improve the quality of their lives.

This proves what has long been known,  that the most memorable people or pets in your life will be those  who loved you when you weren't very lovable.

For a wounded warrior, following his heart sometimes can be the moment of awakening.  After a period of vulnerability, tears are always on the surface.  And then there are those times in the winds of change we find our true direction.  It is in times like this that perhaps the best thing to do is throw your heart over the fence and the rest of you will follow. 

To me the most valueable sermons are lived, not preached.  Watching several of 'our' injured Marines at a BBQ, I felt immersed in the bond between each of them. Wounded in duty, with honor, with respect, with dignity, with optimism, and with enormous pride. All this, no matter what!

We are all survivors of one sort or another.  And just perhaps the reason we are on this earth is to help ease the pain of others.  In so doing, we help ourselves.  With many of our Marines, a dog can be the catalyst between then and now. Their stories are legendary and all hold sacrifices.

It has been said that when we are alone we cease to exist.  A wounded warrior with a dog in his lap is never alone, and it has been related to me that he or she is then fully alive. As one soldier told me, "with a dog on your lap everything is possible."  It might just be that by seeing through the lace of our wounded warriors stories we actually come to know, and hold, and sometimes absorb their pain.  Their courage inspires us to better handle life's challenges.  These Marines, on a warm summer afternoon, eating grilled hamburgers and hotdogs, showed everyone present that they are not to be judged by what has been accomplished or sacrificed, but by what has been overcome. 

"Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm."
~Winston Churchill


Sunday, September 5, 2010

THE RED RUBBER BALL


During a heavy mortar attack in Iraq, SSgt Robert J. Black, a Military Working Dog handler, chose to stay in his room with German Shepherd Aron F300, rather than go to the shelter with other military members. This is the intensity of their bond. “He put me at ease, just knowing he was there by my side.” SSgt Black honors the deep connection and tells me that, “No one outside of K9 will ever understand the bond that is created. Some get closer to their MWD than their own spouse, especially after six months in Iraq. You can say anything you want without judgment. You always get love in return.” You just can’t ask for more than that.



Aron, four years old, is an explosive detection and patrol dog and according to SSgt Black, his additional job is also to “keep me sane.” Aron has the exuberance of youth and in his down time loves to play with his frisbee. But in the end it is the red rubber ball that has been the catalyst for saving lives!


Aron is a hero, not known by many, but a hero just the same. Here in SSgt Black’s own words is the story of the red rubber ball and a very special hero. So on this Labor Day weekend, take a moment to remember and recognize our K-9's that are saving lives every day~!

"2005 approaches as I enter the kennels and place Aron’s collar and leash on him. Excited, Aron wags his tail and pulls toward the door not knowing that today changes from his normal routine of training and patrolling Kirtland AFB. Today is only known by his handler.


Aron, loaded into his kennel, is put on a truck headed to the airport. We travel for six days and finally arrive at Baghdad International Airport, Iraq. Still unaware of what lies ahead of us, unfamiliar smells and strange activities heighten Aron’s keen senses.



After a few nights of barking at every noise, we load up on a helicopter bound for Ba’Qubah, Iraq (Forward Operating Base Warhorse in the Diyala Province.) We landed late afternoon and were met by two handlers who were just completing their six month tours. Ours was just beginning. I unloaded my six bags and settled into our CHU (Coalition Housing Unit).



Both of us were anxious to take a walk and discover new things. Bounding out of the unit, he and I both begin to familiarize ourselves with the new surroundings. Aron checked out a small tree near the ball field and a ball field he will later discover is a great place to catch frisbees.
 The second day yields our first mission. It is pitch black outside as I place the tracking harness around Aron’s midsection, as I had done numerous times before. I take him to the waiting HUMMWVand to his position in the rear seat. I sensed Aron’s hesitation with what I was asking of him and tell him, “Hup.” I can see him thinking. “In there? Where?” With guidance, encouragement and trust, he finally understands what I am asking of him. As I walked around to take my own seat next to him, he never took his eyes off of me. As the HUMMWV starts up everyone turns to look at Aron and questioned his excessive barking. I reply, “Yep, the whole time.”

 

We depart the safety of the base and head onto the Iraqi road. Aron sensed my nervousness and tried to get closer to me, possibly to comfort me or perhaps himself. After an hour of driving and barking, the HUMMVW stops and we get out. Soldiers eye Aron and me, possibly reminiscing about their own pets left back home, or perhaps wondering if this dog can actually find explosives. We learn the reason for our mission and wait our turn to do what we were sent here to do.



The night before, insurgents attacked an Iraqi police station killing a handful of police. I survey the area and come to conclude now this is real. I observe a black body bag containing an Iraqi police major by the road, ten yards from our staging area. On the road is a burned out Iraqi police truck. “Seek,” I command, as familiar training instantly sets in and Aron goes immediately to work. Over mounds of earth thick brush, Aron’s nose never comes higher than six inches off the ground, as he focuses on the odors surrounding him.


We ‘clear’ homes, vehicles and fields. Men, women and children huddle together next to a dirt wall outside their homes. I wanted so badly to gather the children and tell them ‘it’s alright’ and that we mean no harm. But my duty, and the fact I have a trained military dog, keeps me from approaching and taking the time. After eighteen hours of waiting and searching we return to the safety of our FOB (forward operation base.)

I soon realize I have a false sense of security when mortars start hitting the base around 0200. My heart races. I put on my helmet and flak vest and take cover in the corner of my CHU, which is reinforced with sand bags stacked four feet high. I pet Aron, calming him and myself. The loud explosions stop and it takes more than a few hours to settle back in bed.

Mission after mission, search after search, with only minimal results, we finally hit pay dirt. It is January, 2006 and after countless missions, this one I will never forget. We unload in a small village as I command “seek” through a palm grove. Aron goes straight to work. A proverbial smell strikes his nose and with a strong pull we dart through the foliage. Aron casts his nose into the air and responds, then looks to me for his reward, a red rubber ball. With encouragement I take him away from the shrubs that he just responded on, as numerous other soldiers with shovels and a metal detector close in on the vicinity of his response.

 

With only pats on his head, he still looks toward me to toss the red rubber ball. The metal detector goes off with a high pitch, indicating a ‘positive’ for metal under the dirt. They find nothing. With my twelve years of experience, I pulled Aron past the shrubs and back into the wind. Again he pulls and responds only 10 meters from the last location. He stares longingly for the red rubber ball, but to no avail. Then another high pitch from the metal detector. This time a thud from the shovel as a wooden crate was unearthed. A two foot by two foot box was discovered with seventeen pounds of Czech-made C-4 along with wires and numerous compact discs. Once confirmed, and only then, Aron is allowed to return and respond. His just reward, a simple, red rubber ball.

 

After weeks of familiarization, training, and missions in this new land, it begins to take on a sense of normalcy. We decide to head to the ball field for some much deserved exercise and play. I toss the Frisbee and Aron sprints across the field to retrieve it.



Our months of work together pass and again Aron is placed in his harness anticipating another mission. But this time it’s a final mission – a mission home. We head for a waiting helicopter. Nervousness sets and Aron detects a different demeanor from me, a sense of ease. He stares out of the window, hoping to see a passing pedestrian for a final bark.

After seven days of travel, we arrive in Albuquerque, New Mexico. There was no fanfare, no flag waving Americans, just the commander, kennel master and a handler to help load up the gear and Aron’s crate. Aron returns to the kennels to his excited four-legged co-workers and to fanfare in their own canine way. Aron barks at the dog in the kennel next to him and to the ones across, letting them know he’s back!



Days go by as Aron waits for me to return from leave. The door opens again and again to other handlers, but not his own. He eats and drinks and joins in barking sessions with his brethren. And then finally a door opens, and in anticipation, Aron looks around the corner of his kennel to see a familiar face. Jumping and whimpering for the gate to spring open, I place the collar and leash around his neck; he wags his tail and pulls toward the door.

Perhaps he is anticipating another mission and another HUMMWV ride. But this time it is to the training yard to catch a Frisbee on familiar ground. Pats on his head. A quiet, simple ceremony for a job well done.




Aron will never realize he may have saved the lives of numerous Iraqis and several comrades, just yearning for a simple, red rubber ball. Aron, a four year old German shepherd, a military working dog, not known to many, but know to one – his handler, his partner.

Thank you Aron.”



Black, Robert J., SSgt, USAF

Military working Dog Section





























Thursday, September 2, 2010

WITH ARMS WIDE OPEN

"Give me all the money you want.  It won't match what my dog gives me."

"I guess I didn't get hurt for nothing.  People really do care."


My question is - "Is anybody listening?" Our injured Soldiers, Airmen, Marines, and Navy are sending signals in every way possible to tell us that a dog is helping them with their PTSD symptoms.  They are telling us that the quality of their lives is improved to a very great degree with a dog by their sides. 

It has been a long slow process from Florence Nightengale discovering that caged birds brought great comfort to her patients, to pets being adopted by troops overseas in WW I, WW II, Korea, Vietnam and the Balkans, to two selected and trained therapy dogs being attached to combat stress units in Tikrit and Mosul, where they are a vital part of the medical team that assists troops struggling with stress, sleep disorders and ‘event-related trauma.’ This is the first time in the history of the military that therapy dogs have been sent to a war zone. It only makes sense that therapy dogs are being introduced to wounded warriors returning with a myriad of injuries, many unseen.

Penny’s From Heaven Foundation’s therapy dogs have found a niche that most therapy dogs haven’t, the world of Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) for wounded warriors. The dog is a modality to break the ice, to lighten the mood, to open the heart once again for heroes who were trained to kill and to witness things no one should be expected to witness. These dogs also break down the stigma and negative aspects of mental health issues, as they serve as a reminder of home, and a simpler time.


These therapy dogs, working with wounded warriors, are trained  basic, intermediate and advanced obedience. They are trained to work despite loud noises and distractions and they are trained not to socialize with people who may be afraid or disinterested. It is no surprise that therapy dogs help reduce stress and anxiety and increase the feeling of safety. But the use of therapy dogs has yet to be fully understood or utilized to any great degree, when it comes to treating depression. Sure we all have depressed days, but the depression that comes home with a wounded warrior is life altering. These special dogs with their simple gift of presence, offer acceptance no matter what the injury might be. They don’t care what the wounded warrior looks like, if he has severe burns all over his body, or if he is missing a limb or multiple limbs, or if he has short term memory loss and can’t remember how to tie his shoes. These dogs are simply there - to listen, to snuggle, and for a time to help these heroes forget their nightmares.

Today therapy dogs with their calm, patient and quiet demeanor provide a safety net of support and comfort. Through recognition, education, acceptance, treatment and support, Penny’s From Heaven Foundation is promoting the use of trained therapy dogs with those suffering from PTSD and TBI. Kelsie, Gracie and other PTSD Support Dogs provide specific tasks for 'their' soldiers such as being able to snuggle and kiss something that isn’t a threat. The dogs alert the person to the presence of other people. The dogs assess the surroundings simply by shifting their focus and attention by moving their eyes. They provide a necessary tactile stimulation by distracting the person from his/her anxiety. My little blind therapy dog, Gracie, has gotten into the trenches and changed the lives of our wounded heroes one at a time at Brooke Army Medical Center’s Fisher Houses, Warrior Family Support Center, Lackland AFB Fisher House, the Marine Annex and the Barracks. From group therapy sessions with the soldiers, to standing beside them as they pray, or as they sing the National Anthem with one hand over their heart and one on Gracie’s head; to Gracie lying on their laps, as they try to forget the horrors of war for one moment; to having a wounded soldier pin his most cherished possession, his Combat Infantryman Badge, on Gracie’s therapy vest because he loved her that much; to Gracie gently nuzzling the hole in a helmet made by a bullet that had taken forty percent of a soldier’s brain, as he wept in her presence and simply said “Gracie understands.” When a warrior cradles Gracie in his arms like a baby and cries unashamedly into her fur upon learning of the loss of one of his buddies in Iraq, it becomes easy to see that this little dog was born with a purpose and why the soldiers call her their ‘angel.’






The amputees, the burn survivors, the traumatic brain injured wounded warriors have found a comrade in arms in this little unexpected ‘soldier’s angel.’ Their individual stories are heartwarming, poignant, inspiring, and life altering. Gracie works her way into the hearts of not only the wounded warriors, but their mothers, fathers, wives, and children and makes their troubles a little lighter. She salutes them by bowing her head, as they quietly rest their foreheads and burdens on hers. Their attitude is one of gratitude simply for her gift of presence. Gracie does not judge or shy away from the wounded. Providing the best possible medicine, she loves unconditionally and accepts them as they are. And in the end Gracie and her gift of presence teaches us all that those struggling to heal are defined by the same things we all are, our family, our friends and our faith.


Gracie and our other therapy dogs working with the wounded warriors quite simply break down the barriers. Another lesson of huge proportions learned from a little dog. To Gracie, 'her' soldiers are just new friends whose appearances simply are not important.

I was, and will always be, filled with wonder at what a member of another species teaches us about unconditional love and the interconnectedness of all living things on this earth. To paraphrase one of my favorite authors, Antoine de Saint Exupery, “Here is my secret. It is very simple. The essential things in life are seen not with the eyes, but with the heart.”

I reflect back to Gracie and Kelsie and how even if a soldier gives up on themselves, these dogs never give up on them.

Another mystery of the heart perhaps.