Monday, June 20, 2011


There are times in our lives when we need to be carried, when we just can't do it any more.  It is these times we remember who was there for us.  For many of our warriors returning with PTSD PFHF Therapy and Service Dogs are there for them. 

It is in their presence they begin to feel safe and comfortable.    These dogs see past the missing limbs, burns, brain injuries, and Post Traumatic Stress.  They meet them on equal ground. They are not judged, simply loved unconditionally.

When a warrior does something as simple as petting a dog, within minutes they get a massive release of beneficial hormones such as dopamine.  The stress hormone, cortisol is decreased.  Physical anxiety goes down which most often results in lessening depression.

I may not serve in Iraq or Afghanistan, but I serve here.  To face it trembling is not productive.  As our wounded warriors stories weave in and out of my life, I find I await them often with great anticipation and also something that I almost liken to dread.  Dread to once again experience vicariously the stories of a horrific war and yet an unrelenting surfacing of compassion and passion, sadness, and hope to read their souls and to tell the stories of valiant young men and women who return home to what appears to be another combat zone. A combat zone of post traumatic stress, traumatic brain injuries and/or military sexual trauma.

Throughout this journey I have struggled in my own place of darkness.  Iraq and Afghanistan are places I can't imagine, places I have never been and never will be, but I feel deep inside that I have on some level experienced it through 'my' warriors. I feel the places they are when they come home with PTSD, TBI or MST, afraid and know no way out and there is no one to give them directions.  The lucky ones know they have to push forward by faith.  I am reminded of Alan Alda's words, "You cannot get there by bus, only hard work, risking and by not quite knowing what you are doing."

Theirs are stories of extraordinary dogs and extraordinary heroes both serving or having served our country in their own irreplaceable ways.  Our returning warriors have more need for therapy and service dogs than we ever knew or expected and certainly more than ever before in history.

I wish you could feel,  understand what they experience, and to truly 'get it'.  I wish you could  have a sense, in your core, what sacrifices these brave young men and women, as well as their families and loved ones, have made, and grasp the differences made in their lives, and in ours, by equally loyal, courageous and giving dogs.

Imagine being in an agonizingly and unbearably unfamiliar place far from all you have ever known.  A dark place.  The sounds, smells, unrelenting heat and stress, the inability to ever truly sleep or even relax where you don't know if this will be your last day...a place where you don't know where you really are and sometimes wonder why. You have to grown up fast, and muster all the courage and bravery you can. They come home a different person. 

Imagine leaving the battlefield one day and being at McDonalds the next with people that have no ability to comprehend where you have been emotionally or physically.  People who might love you and want to help, but don't know how.  People whose lives have been disrupted and put on hold to be there for you, spending month after month, and sometimes years, with you in the hospital.  Perhaps you have come home missing an arm, both legs, blind or with severe burns or a traumatic brain injury.  It is then that help is offered by another type of hero, a therapy dog or a service dog.  A companion or an assistant that sees past the injuries and teaches us that disfigured or the critically ill are not defined by their differences, but by the things that mean the most to them ~ their family, values, and faith.

You will find that we are all pretty much scared all the time, and there is certainly no shame in that.  The world is full of pain, but also the overcoming of it. In the presence of an experienced dog, whether in a war zone or in another battle of rehabilitation back at home, direction, hope, a sense of peace and a future can often be found again. 

It is for our men and women who lay their lives on the line every minute of every day that that I write today, and to the dogs who protect and defend the greatest nation on earth and to the dogs who are the steadfast companions to our warriors returning with PTSD, TBI, and MST. These remarkable dogs see them through the hell of nightmares, flashbacks, panic attacks, sleeplessness, hyper-vigilance, mental replays, serious emotional depression, alcohol and drug abuse, grief, inability to work, inability to participate in family life, guilt, rage, spiritual despair, suicidal thoughts, and nightmares where the person sees, hears, feels, smells, and even tastes aspects of the horrific event that are all too frightening and vivid.

These dogs are their life savers.

Friday, June 17, 2011


"The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths.  These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern.  Beautiful people do not just happen."
~Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

These words give me pause to surmise that there are very few people who have not known defeat, struggle, loss, and suffering.

 Ms. Kubler Ross also says, "There are no mistakes, no coincidences. All events are blessings given to us to learn from." This last one is hard for me to grasp. How do you explain this to a family whose son was just killed by an IED roadside bomb in Iraq?  How do you tell them this was a 'blessing'?

Sgt. Glenn Sewell died two days ago.  I did not know him, but he called San Antonio his home.  But I do know his face. I  find comfort in his expression.  I smile to hide the lump in my throat,  because I can feel what he was feeling in the moment this photo was taken; there was no war, no fear, no pain, no anxiety.  There was simply pure joy and happiness.  In a war zone this is a rare occurence.  There was simply a very special joy found while snuggling two floppy puppies with long legs and big paws. For a while he was a kid again, in his backyard playing with his own dogs.  For a very brief while. 

Today I send out a prayer for his family, to help them.  They can't do it alone.  I don't know what else to do.  I feel all of the grief of all of the families who have lost loved ones in this war on terror.  Perhaps they, and I, have to consciously decide to be courageous.  But as we know courage might eventually come, but not always in a straight line. 

Life speaks to us all.  We don't always hear. Is life speaking to you when you look at this young man's face?

Tomorrow I have the great honor of meeting a Marine who has lost three limbs.  Described as 'motivated and positive,' this Marine had been a dog handler in Afghanistan. He misses his dog enormously. Tomorrow he will have two furry therapists visiting him. Sure seems like a small gift for such an enormous sacrifice. But it is our gift.  I can guarantee you there will be stories not anticipated or known. And rest assured for at least one moment there will be a smile.  And that in itself is enough.

Everything that happens to us is a lesson. With our wounded warriors, there are stories to be told.  Stories that must be told.  People need to hear them, feel them, understand and be proud of them. The bond between our warriors and their dogs, whether strays in Iraq, a military working dog saving countless lives in Afghanistan, or a therapy or service dog holding vigil when our warriors return, is extraordinary.  We must grasp the depth of this bond between these dogs and these young men and women. 

If the dog could talk, it would almost be as if the dog is telling us that their warrior's sacrifices were not in vain ~ they meant something. And they would share with us, by example, the way we should treat our returning heroes.

Freedom isn't free!  And I wonder this morning how many of us going about our daily routine, grumbling and stumbling really 'get' that.  Perhaps, just perhaps, it is my work to tell the stories, to paint the pictures with words, to do justice to what our warriors endured and the struggles they face day to day when they return home.

I had a female amputee once tell me, "We are not defined by our amputations.  We are defined by our hearts and souls.  What is important is what is in our hearts.  When old stuff comes up just say 'no', shake it off and let it go." There is much to be learned there.  People are always waiting to fill us up with a story they can control or one that makes them feel better about themselves. 

For me personally, caring for wounded warriors and their families is sacred.  It is when I am most alive.  It is when I find that love inside of me and that gasping moment.  It is about honoring and protecting a very special gift I have been blessed with.  Yes, I have known suffering, defeat, struggles and loss and found my way out of the darkness.  This is where the depth of my compassion was born. I will never ever let anything get in the way of that.

Today reconnect with yourself.  It is here you will find the truth. In this world where you can be anything at all ~ simply be you.

 It is here that you just might find that momentary joy found in the face of Sgt. Glenn Sewell.

Sgt. Glenn Sewell ~ RIP

Wednesday, June 15, 2011



 ~Lewis B. Smedes 

The doctors and psychologists tell me that this malaise and depression is normal.  That after two surgeries in three weeks it will most likely take me a minimum of 90 days to recover from the anesthesia.  Okay great!  This makes my day.

So what to do! I have been thinking about my story and what it is.  I have been thinking about our wounded warriors who face multiple surgeries and years of recovery, if indeed recovery is possible.  I have been thinking about people who have no one to share their story with.  And if they do have someone, does that someone really listen...really hear...are they really present? Or as you attempt to talk to them their cell phone wins once again.

As Smedes says, "It is commitment, not blood, that creates the family." Okay this I get. I can count the friends I have on one hand.  Those that I carry my burdens to that hear me, listen, understand and love me despite my shortcomings.  But once in a while it is a complete stranger, or someone you barely know, who puts life into perspective that allows you to become aware of who you are and what your needs are and more importantly what your needs aren't.  What is right from wrong.  What is in your best interest may not be what you thought.

Is there someone in your life that you consistently pour your deepest troubles to and they ignore you?  Are you left dangling deeply hurt, only to try again to gain their attention?  Does it sometimes  become like a video tape in your mind that keeps on playing and playing.  Does it become something that you can't stand to watch and yet can't turn it off. 

Bitter memories take over and we feel like we are suffocating. If only someone would listen. With me the lump in my throat comes with tears attached.  And then I realize that only I can write the ending. So today the fight through the malaise and depression begins yet again.  This morning I did not want to get out of bed.  Why bother...just another day of endless phone calls and paperwork.  But Kelsie wouldn't stand for it.  A cold nose under the covers was indefatigable in its pursuit of getting me out of bed.  I tried explaining to her that I had only slept about 2 1/2 hours and really needed a bit more.  But to no avail. It was dog food time!

So today what is my story? I realize that only I am the author and the main character.  I am here on this earth to write my story and live my life with integrity and honesty and as Smedes says, "...a real story about a real person who somehow stays in one piece, inside and out, all the way to the end."  I own my story and if others choose to ignore my reaching out then so be it.  Today I will again attempt to finalize the draft of my next book, K-9's ~ The Antidote to PTSD.  I will plow through the malaise, fighting vehemently, and wrestling with the realization that if someone ignores my pleas for help perhaps the answer has been provided.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


Father's Day is Sunday.  Sadly, I am all too aware of those fathers who are deployed, who will be unable to be with their families at the lake, the pool, the barbecue, or in front of the television dozing on the sofa.  I am also way too aware of those fathers who struggle just to survive another day after returning from war.  For them the war just begins when they return home.

More than 134,000 people made calls to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline last year. Of those callers, 61 percent identified themselves as veterans, while 7 percent identified themselves as a friend or family of a veteran.  These are young men and women who are someone's son, daughter, brother, sister, father, mother, husband or wife.  Leaving the battlefield and reintegrating back into the world they left behind is traumatizing.

Veterans and their therapists, case managers, psychiatric support system and families have reported a dramatic decrease in night terrors and suicidal thoughts and even medications after being provided with a PTSD Support Service Dog. 

"I'll cry with you,"she whispered ,until we run out of tears.  Even if it's forever. We'll do it together."  There it was a simple promise of connection. The loving alliance of grief and hope that blesses both our breaking apart and our coming together again.

Molly Fumia, Safe Passage

These dogs don't know it, but they are a buffer to the warrior.  A buffer that gauges the safety of the warrior's surroundings that affords them the ability to go into public places without constantly scanning for snipers, hidden bombs and dangers that lurk in the deep recesses of their minds. 

Jim, deployed three times, was in twenty three IED explosions.  He was injured each time he was in Iraq.  When he returned, he struggled moment to moment with PTSD, short term memory loss, and lack of cognitive reasoning.  He can't tie his shoe laces and jokes that his little baby boy will have to help him.

My therapy/service dog, Kelsie, went to him the very first time, as of they were long lost friends.  She nuzzled his neck and worked her way up to is ear with her nose.  She snuggled him on the sofa in the day room of The Barracks at BAMC, allowing him to sleep, a kind of sleep he couldn't find alone in his room at night. 

The first time we met was Christmas Eve a few years ago.  The first moment he saw Kelsie he sat down on the floor, wrapped his arms around her,  held onto her and simply looked at me and said thank you.  Jim started quietly talking, telling me what his personal dogs do for him.  "They don't judge me or ask me how they can help.  They are simply there."  He said he was tired of people asking how they can help.  "They can't.  But when my dogs are around it is better.  I can relax.  My heart rate lowers and the panic lessens."

He didn't have long to hold onto his furry Christmas gift.  He had a plane to catch.  But as he left, he looked back at me and asked if I would come back with Kelsie after the holidays.  I assured him I would.  Several days later, this guy with a TBI, PTSD and short term memory loss, called me from the airport and said he was back and when could he see Kelsie again.  I cried.

For several months Kelsie and I would visit Jim on weekends.  Kelsie would get up on the sofa and snuggle him and within minutes both would be sound asleep.  You see the key is neither Kelsie, nor I, judged him.  We allowed him to be who he was.  Like Kelsie, I was simply there to listen. 

There was no way of knowing what our meeting Jim would one day mean to literally hundreds of warriors returning home to fight one of the largest battles of their lives.  The battle against PTSD.  Their lives are changed forever, as they wage the fight of immeasurable pain, grief, depression, brain injuries, amputations, severe burns, loss of vision, loss of hearing, and more. 

A wounded warrior's wife once told me that "People don't want to see it, experience it.  Sadly they hide or turn away from the reality of it all.  They have no concept or appreciation of what it takes to be free ~ the price of freedom.  Sticking their heads in the sand is transferred to their children.  What you don't see or feel to your core like amputations and burns, or the invisible wounds of PTSD, is not real.  It is not there." 

I thought of how many people I know, when asked if they would like to accompany me to visit with the warriors, decline. Decline with excuses because they don't want to see it, feel it, touch it, or at the very least offer a hug of appreciation and a few words of gratitude.  They don't want to see it because it will make them sad or uncomfortable.  These guys and gals have given all.  Isn't recognition or a few words of appreciation mandatory? So many of these warriors have thanked me and my Kelsie, Penny and Gracie for our work, for caring, for coming, for giving, for listening, and for just taking the time to sit with them.  How can we as humans give anything less?  As the soldier's wife said, "These men need to be embraced and thanked.  They stand by their buddies to the death, but who stands by them when they come home?"

Each veteran's story is unique, but there is a uniting thread. And that is quite simply, combat changes you. Some returning warriors can cope and some can't. Some contemplate suicide, some attempt it, and eighteen kill themselves each day. 

I ask if we are able to provide a PTSD Support Service Dog for a warrior isn't it the right thing to do?  Isn't it about time?
I end this by telling you that meeting Jim was a huge stepping stone in the formation of TADSAW (Train a Dog ~ Save a Warrior), based in San Antonio, TX.  It was a huge step for Jim as well.  He and his wife have established PAWSANDSTRIPES.ORG, an organization, based in New Mexico,  providing service dogs for our returning warriors with PTSD.  I would like to think in part the formation of this organization by Jim was his relationship with Kelsie.  Perhaps it was, perhaps it wasn't.  But what I do know is that it was in the divine plan that they met, and that they snuggled, and that a difference was made in the life of one man who has decided to pay it forward. I was honored and proud to have known this warrior, and to see how both of our missions are parallel and making a difference, one warrior and one dog at a time.

So this father's day please remember what families have sacrificed and given so that you might spend the day at the pool or safe at home in front of the television set.  And say a prayer for all those young men and women who don't want to see tomorrow, the burden is too heavy. 

And please, if you find it in your heart to help or please do so.  The money you donate toward the training of a service dog just might save a life.

Thursday, June 9, 2011


Where does this thing called patience come from? Is it a learned trait, or do some of us just come equipped with it? If that's the case, it was somehow omitted from my genes.

     “Patience is waiting. Not passively waiting. That is laziness. But to keep going when the going is hard and slow - that is patience.” ~ Anonymous

The heat laden days of June don't make my patience come any easier. How do any of us get past feeling tired, beat up, exhausted, depleted, and empty?  How do I get past the intense feeling of a need that can't seem to be met? Is there a place where we can say, "Yes, I am patient", or is it a process, the end of which we never reach or do we? 

In my case, this could be the result of the past three weeks and two surgeries.  But the sense that this feeling has somehow intensified, once recovery mode has set in, is disarming. Is there a time when we know that it is time?  Is there a word or event that let's us know?  How do we know for sure?

I think the tumultous past few months have physically, and yes mentally, taken their toll.  There is a disquieting feeling that I want to run.  Run fast, run away.  But the box of cookies, comfort food,  on my nightstand when I awoke this morning indicated that this might be a difficult task.

So my question for today is do we look for obstacles rather than magic?  I guess like everyone else I say "I am fine" when I am not.  I say "nothings wrong" when I seethe with hurt. This is a fearsome thing...the anesthetizing of the human soul. 

Perhaps I have had too much time to think lately.  Too much time to feel the pain of others and to feel my pain.  Two nights ago I could not sleep.  I kept waking up just to make certain I was alive, not feeling pain.  It was an odd sensation.  Pain makes me angry. The absense of pain makes me suspect.

A friend wrote me some time ago about the little Pockets of Peace books I wrote, "These Pockets of Peace are sometimes the only sunshine we see some days. How wonderful to be so certain of your life's mission."  I wanted to write her back and tell her that with that certainty comes a sometimes unbearable pricetag. But I simply said, 'thank you.' 

Is it all about endurance.  I see how much it takes for even the strongest to just live their lives.  It is a struggle, oftentimes day to day, hour to hour and yes minute to minute.  To me these are our quiet heroes. 

Analyzing my life during the past four months, I have come to realize that I was seriously close to burn out.  Perhaps this 'time out' was in the master plan.  Perhaps I was forced to sit, or rather lie still, to find me again.  For so long I have focused on everyone but me, that exhaustion was inevitable.  My passion is still there but greatly subdued.  There are things I have not done and quite literally and desperately need to do.  But where do I store my allegiance to others, to the cause, to my warriors?  But my needs now go far beyond this.  My needs that have been put on a shelf, as I suppose many of yours have as well, waiting.  Waiting for what?  The right time, the right man, the kids to get through school, the lottery, the bills are paid.  Waiting for what?

The only thing, the one thing that remains a constant in my life, the one thing I understand, still sits in reverent devotion at my feet. My dogs. If they only knew how important they are to me and how needed and how they are the only things that ask nothing of me and yet give everything.  If only they knew.

So today I ask myself, what door do I walk through? Where do I go from here?  Where can I find a moments peace?