Friday, July 29, 2011

The Miracle of a Little Gauze Dog and a Yellow Lab Named Kelsie

".... we all have our own battles and are heroes quietly in our own way…I hope that that is what we can pass to our children – be a hero in all you do, and recognize that it is only by the support of others that we are enabled to succeed."
Miriam L.

Not too long ago a nurse approached me at a Marine barbecue at BAMC and told me of a young soldier who had just arrived from Walter Reed Medical Center.  He had lost a leg, use of one arm, was badly burned and severely depressed. 

There was nothing terribly unusual about this story, for it is but one of many that I hear daily. Sadly, it is commonplace. However, this particular one touched me in a most special way.  The saga is full of compassion, caring, healing, love, and commitment to country and warrior.

The nurse told me that when this young man was at Walter Reed he had frequent visits in the hospital from a most special Labrador retriever. He adored this dog. The visits brought him comfort and temporary release from great pain.  But after leaving Walter Reed to transfer to BAMC, he no longer had a therapy dog visit him and his depression worsened.

So, the nurse asked if I would go to the hospital and visit Matthew.  Explaining the story to me, there was no way I could say no. But it wasn't quite that easy.

It seems his first night in this hospital had been just the evening before.  He was in excruciating pain and crying out for his therapy dog to come visit.  He was unable to sleep and nothing anyone did would ease his suffering, until the nurse had an idea. She took bundles of cotton and gauze and surgical tape and fabricated a stuffed dog.  She took it to his room and lovingly placed it on his chest. He took the dog and snuggled it close and fell into a deep sleep. It was by her perseverance and support that she too became a hero, as she faced extraordinary circumstances and acted with honor and self sacrifice, love and compassion.

Getting Kelsie in to see him was more difficult.  It seems he was in the Burn Unit and obviously no dogs were allowed!  But the nurses promised him that if he kept working at improving they would take him outside the Burn Unit into the hallway in his wheel chair so he could visit with Kelsie.  Well, it worked.  The day came when the nurse called me and said he had worked hard and was now able to receive a very special visitor. I couldn't get there fast enough.

The rest of the story is not as important as the beginning.  For it is in the beginning that steps are taken and work is begun and fears are alleviated. It is in the beginning when you release the tears and focus on getting better.  So the story goes... Matthew learned to slowly awaken to life and recognize and love the people who treated him right.  

With the help of a very special nurse, a little gauze dog, and a yellow lab named Kelsie, Matthew is on the road to recovery. It is a slow road, but it is also rich with treasures and beautiful souls.

Friday, July 15, 2011


A comment I read today from a wounded warrior, a combat medic, after a visit tBAMC, put my life in perspective. 

"What we witnessed today is such a small snapshop of what's out there.  My heart is broken...I witnessed and cared for thousands who came through my tent in just a few months.  It's been a decade. My service dog stayed by my side as I cried myself to sleep...she knew."

It got me to thinking about our warriors who suffer, endure.  Those who struggle each day with pain and grief and anxiety and the horrors of war, trying to get through the tunnels of darkness to light.  Eckhart Tolle said, "If you had not suffered as you have, there would be no depth to you, no humility, no compassion." That I completely agree with. I know people who have lived a good portion of their lives and have never known pain. It is true, they have little to no depth and no compassion or caring. They are shallow and hollow, and it is all about them.

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

I see this sensitivity, an understanding of human life, and a certain gentleness in the way our wounded warriors touch or speak to a therapy dog or their own service dog. Not only does the dog become a catalyst to opening doors for them, the dog is just the medicine needed. Perhaps it is in their dog that they rediscover love, for the dog certainly, but also for themselves. This is the first step of the journey.  The first step in attending to the wounds in themselves.

Today I have received over 20+ phone calls and it is only mid afternoon.  I have received 60+ emails and assorted text messages.  Phone calls overlap and notes are carpeting my desk and floor.  I am exhausted but I keep on.  Why? Because I must.  Because I want to.  Because I don't want one more warrior to be a statistic, to be one of the 18 that kill themselves each day. That is just plain wrong.   

One email, from a female warrior new to our program, told me that her landlord was extraordinarily rude to her telling her she could not have a service dog where she lives.  Hasn't she been through enough?  A nurse  deployed, who witnessed horrific things we can't even imagine, now suffers multiple panic attacks weekly.  She tended to the wounded.  Some wounds healed others did not.  Some wounds will last a lifetime. 

Wounds to the soul and spirit may not be visible to others but are a consistent reality to the PTSD sufferer.

She asked what I would do. This I chose not to tell her. Instead, I told her to ignore the person and to leave that up to us.  That is our job. I told her that we only allow happy endings.  She has been through enough.  The best gift for those who judge her would be to let them walk in her shoes, so that then, and only then, would they know and understand.

So today I ask why one service dog can snuggle close to a warrior as she cries herself to sleep, when on the other hand an ignorant landlord tells another warrior she can't have her service dog in housing.

What would I have said ~ ''re gone!'

Thursday, July 14, 2011


I prefer to think that there are no coincidences.  Things happen for a reason.  And all we have to do is open our eyes, be aware, and we will see. 

Today with permission from a wounded warrior, a  nurse, I present you with a letter that left me breathless!

I need to preface this by telling you that she had brought her two Tibetan Terriers for evaluation to a park nearby for evaluation for one becoming her potential TADSAW service dog for PTSD.  Both precious dogs had been rescued, one after having lost a leg after being hit by a car.  It was obvious immediately that these two dogs are bonded to each other and their 'mom' in an extraordinary way.  Separating them to make one a service dog would have been devastating on the other, so it as decided we provide and introduce a new dog into the 'pack' that would become her service dog.

After collaboration with the TADSAW director and our senior trainer it was decided that "Helen" just fills the bill.  She has already been evaluated and is a 'soft' dog with a wonderful ability to snuggle and cuddle and be available in those horrible moments of stress and panic that come all too often and out of nowhere.  She will ease the pain, and take care of her 'mom' so that she can better the quality of her life after combat. She will be her 'battle buddy.'  The following morning this letter was received, along with the tears I shed.

Dear Patsy,
I was very surprised to be able to meet with you, Bart, and Michelle yesterday. From what I understand, you have a very, very busy schedule and the other two collect no dust as well. I felt very honored.

It was a really blessing to talk a little with some other people about the panic attacks. I don't talk to 'normal' people much about them, just the Doctors- and that to a minimum. As I said, it's such a "non-me" thing. I try not to think too much about it, or even count them lest I start having panic attacks about panic attacks, but the truth is I go through about 30 of those danged pills a month. Anyway, you could have knocked me over with a puff of air when I heard you say that you, who I'd size up as someone very refined, resilient and grace filled, had them. Thank you for sharing your experience with me, it gave me concrete hope.

Also, at the risk of sounding, uh, a bit off, maudlin, or "tetched," it also really surprised me to hear how quickly Michelle could find a workable buddy for me. Here's the maudlin part, I guess- last year, I spent my 40th birthday at my grandmother's deathbed. I can't complain about that, it was a great blessing to be with her while she was making that transition. She was, without a doubt, one of the strongest, funniest, most loving women I have ever known. Growing up, she was a great source of stability to me, a rock of goodness in her own unique and original way. She was no cookie cutter saint, but I can't help but think she's on the right side of the pearly gates. Her name was "Helen."

That name has a great context of good and blessing in our family. I don't know how I'm going to tell my mom that I'm getting a service dog named Helen. I think it's going to kinda knock the breath out of her. God works in mysterious ways.

Thank you very much again.

Perhaps now I know why I was 'blessed' with panic attacks!  It makes it real to me.  I understand. I can nod my head in affirmation and really mean it.  The warriors with PTSD and severe panic attacks know that I am not just 'blowing hot air' so to speak.  It helps to know that if someone else is able to cope with this 'thing' then maybe, just maybe, so can they.

Helen currently belongs to a doctor who is being deployed sometime in the near future.  It was her hope that Helen could become a service dog to help a wounded warrior with PTSD! 

Well two wishes have come true.  And I for one prefer to believe that this was no coincidence.



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Monday, July 11, 2011


Freedom has a taste, and for those who have fought for it, the taste is so sweet the protected will never know.
~Patrick Alan Vaughan

When sitting in my office thinking about what to write, this quote came across my desk from a friend, Patrick, a retired military man, a man who has sacrificed both of his legs. In spite of what he has endured, the taste is still sweet. I wrote him back and thanked him for the beautiful words he wrote. 

I wish I could explain to you how many, many young warriors, most severely wounded, say the same thing in different words. Under the same circumstances, would we?  Truth be known few of us would.  

"You can never have a happy ending at the end of an unhappy journey it just doesn't work out that way.  The way you're feeling, along the way, is the way you're continuing to pre-pave your journey, and it's the way it's going to continue to turn out until you do something about the way you are feeling."

Guess we have all been battered and bruised.  But how we handle it shows who we are, and what we are made up of, and how much we are willing to withstand.Our wounded warriors pave the way for us.  If only we would pay attention, we could follow suit. There are great lessons to be learned here.

There comes a time in life when you have no choice but to walk away from all the drama and people who create it.  You then begin to surround yourself with people who make you laugh, forget the bad and focus on the good.  You love the people who treat you right and pray for those who don't.  I for one understand that life is too short to be anything but happy.  Falling down is a part of LIFE.  Getting back up is LIVING!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011


What inspires you?  What grabs your heart and doesn't let go?  What is it that touches you in such a special way that you can barely describe it and sometimes barely breathe ~ that one thing that you hold tight to your soul and never want the bubble to burst for fear of losing a part of you.

Doing what I do with therapy dogs and service dogs and reaching out to people struggling to heal or to just get by to live another day, hour, or even second, I find I am inspired constantly.  To be able to be a conduit to reach these people is a true blessing.  I am honored, humbled and incessantly eager for the next moment to come when I find that my compassion, empathy, love, and deep caring for these individuals, and the gift of my therapy dogs who are simply  present for someone who needs them more than they know, is what my life is all about. It is all about love.

Last week I put out a request on facebook for $1,000.00 for the hotel expenses for a warrior flying in from Tennessee to train with Gunny, his service dog in training.  Wishes were granted in three days!

Last week monies were received and new friends made at two charity events for TADSAW/PFHF at the Sonic and Freebirds World Burritos.  Another wish granted.

Daily we receive dozens of phone calls from warriors from throughout the United States wanting a service dog to help them with the agony of PTSD.  We are able to guide them in the right direction or help them directly.  Another wish granted.

I was grateful once again, after a long and laborious down spell and two surgeries and recovery, to be able to spend time with wounded warriors at the Warrior Family Support Center on the Fourth of July. How I have missed them.  How I love them all.  These are the young men and women who inspire me more than anything. To sit quietly and simply observe dozens of young men in wheelchairs, some with burns, some missing limbs, accompanied by the support of friends and families was awe inspiring to say the least.  Amidst the red, white and blue decor, one young soldier, on a two hour pass from the hospital at SAMC, was accompanied by family and a nurse escort.  He was pale and found it difficult to smile.  Severely depressed, just getting out of the hospital helped in the healing process.  Another warrior with a missing leg was nestled into his wheel chair with a small baby girl snuggled into his chest, as he held her close with one arm and guided the wheelchair with the other.  I told him how beautiful she was, and he smiled as would any other proud papa.  Fried chicken, mashed potatoes and green beans and chocolate cake was the perfect 4th of July.  For me just being there .... well there was no where else I would have been. 

One Marine, a triple amputee, was wearing a huge smile and a teeshirt that said, "Wounded Marine ~ Some Assembly Required"  His mom told me of walking into their room at the Fisher House and finding him wearing her pink slippers on his stumps.  This is a guy with courage, with grit, with guts and with an incredible sense of humor.  His goal to surf!  Betja he finds a way.

This last week PFHF was blessed with being invited to affiliate with the medical staff at Wilford Hall Medical Center's CONTINGENCY AEROMEDICAL STAGING FACILITY. Handpicked therapy dog teams will be present on the ambulance buses, to meet wounded warriors, as they are moved from the aircraft coming in from Landsthul or Ramstein, Germany to the hospital. They will be welcomed stateside by a few of our most special therapy dogs and escorted to the 7th floor of Wilford Hall to receive medical evaluation before being sent to their destination hospitals nationwide. We have even been provided with an office and computer for our dogs to have a bit of a rest between visits with the wounded and their families and friends. What an tremendous honor for us.

I spoke with an injured soldier on the phone after he called inquiring about a service dog for his acute PTSD. I asked him what he would think if there would have been a therapy dog on the ambulance bus. He replied that he had been on that same bus. He said, "All we want to see is America! What is more American that apple pie and a dog?" Another wish affirmed.

A few days ago a therapy dog team member and her therapy dogs were the first therapy dogs in San Antonio to participate in a Recovery Mission and Service Mission as part of the Patriot Guard for one of our soldiers killed in the line of duty.  Courtney with her dog, Gainer, were at the funeral home to be of some comfort to the family.  When the escort arrived at the funeral home with Spc Nicholas Hensley's family and his body, Gainer was waiting.  They were able to interact with the family and the soldier's mother asked if she could hug Titan and then asked if they would be there for the funeral.  PFHF will be ready willing and able to assist at any Recovery Mission where we will be of assistance. 

I say all of these things I suppose to affirm to myself that what I do is valuable...that what I do is making a difference, that what PFHF is doing is extraordinary and unique, and that the amazing group of volunteers in PFHF and TADSAW are just that...Amazing!!! We are providing our therapy dogs and our service dogs in venues unreached and untouched previously.  Our professionalism and elite status speaks for itself.  I am proud of each and everyone of our teams, for they are exemplary, caring, compassionate and the kind of people that inspire me.

So this day and everyday, I want you to remember one thing, "ALL GAVE SOME AND SOME GAVE ALL."  And remember that these wounded warriors deserve our help and love, their families our respect and gratitude and that some have 'some assembly required.' But when you think about it, don't we all?

So for today I am back to work after a couple of much needed days off.  For today I am content in the fact that love is something you can't control, love is something you have to give away, and that love is something that asks nothing in return. 

Each day my heart is full, for it is only in giving love are we receive it. And I receive it every second of every day from warriors and patients that I may perhaps never know or meet.  But that is enough.  That is enough.