Experts can speak at length about the causes of PTSD and traumatic brain injury, the symptoms and the treatments for these debilitating ailments. But what is harder to communicate is what passes between the soldiers who struggle daily with these issues and the companions they work with from Freedom Dogs. How do you describe the sensation of knowing that in a time of real need, perhaps in the dead of night, that there is unconditional support and affection awaiting an outstretched hand?
Since 2009, when nurse Beth Russell of Freedom Dogs answered a call from the Commandant of the Marine Corps to participate in a pilot program, specially trained dogs have stood alongside those who have taken on unimaginable stress in the service of their country. Now, as a fully embedded element of the Wounded Warrior Battalion – West, the rehabilitation seen through the help of this organization is an integral part of a soldier’s recovery.
“After I deployed to Afghanistan… I had no desire to do anything I used to do… to go out, to be with friends.” says Melissa Ramirez, a former combat corpsman. “I couldn’t even accomplish a simple task like going into a crowded place. I had a lot of fear and was on guard all the time.”
After having been paired with Gunner, a lovable five-year-old lab who wound up accompanying Ramirez through her day-to-day life, she has since regained her sense of self and been able to see her way through to a successful academic career and a meaningful family life.
Staff Sgt. Carlos E. Cruz can now swim peacefully, getting healthy exercise while his pal Logan sits patiently by the side of his community pool, wagging his tail.
“It’s more of a trust issue. I know he has my back, so I’m able to do whatever I have to do. I struggle every day with isolation and depression. Being part of Freedom Dogs has actually gotten me out of that hole,” Cruz shared with Giving Back Magazine.
There is a persistent need for the work that Freedom Dogs undertakes. About 20% of veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan will develop moderate to severe PTSD. It can happen to anyone; it is not a sign of weakness. It is a terrible by-product of simple humanity, that ironically, can now turn to a four-legged friend for help.
The routine trials of those engaged in the defense of a nation are sometimes inconceivable to those who stand outside the conflicts of our times. But how daunting are the battles fought by a mind in distress, spinning towards isolation and despair? The numbers of those who opted out of that existence because they were unable to find the help they needed are beyond tragic and growing.
What began as the work of a trauma nurse who saw the tangible benefits that a service dog could provide those in need of care, has now grown beyond an organization that simply affords comfort. Freedom Dogs is part of the relief that comes from knowing that true survival, far away from the frontline, is on its way.
Sponsors and donors of Freedom Dogs turn hope into reality.
Now in its sixth year, the Freedom Dogs Golf Tournament at Del Mar Country Club is a celebration of the service dogs, their Marines and everyone who comes together for the greater good. To be held March 1st, 2019, the golf tournament is followed by a silent auction, dinner and presentation. For more information about the golf tournament and other ways to contribute, please visit www.freedomdogs.org.