Like many family members with Veterans of TBI and PTSD, we are constantly seeking anything and everything that we can get our hands on to help cope or ease some of the symptoms of our war-torn veterans are experiencing. Beginning in October of last year, my husband started slipping away. We made it through December just by a thread and then in January, the bottom fell out on my husband and he tried to commit suicide. Having to have him placed in long term hospitalization was one of the hardest things a spouse/family member could ever face and do alone. I felt helpless in watching my veteran slip further away from me although I was hanging on as tight as I could.
I spoke with Bart Sherwood, the Director of the TADSAW program, I not only felt at ease in what I was applying for but felt like someone actually cared about my husband and my family. After many months of being turned away, shot down, shoved aside, and no one caring….it was a breath of fresh air. The application process was easy so I had my reservations because it was so simple. They proved me wrong though and after many many phone calls with Mr. Sherwood…it was like talking to an old friend. He took the time to get to know us as a couple, my husband as an individual, his struggles and, my family as a whole. After those several failed attempts through another organization, I found that I was absolutely thrilled with this organization. Small, close knit, and full of determination and hope….they not only granted our application but they have now become family to us. Through it all, the factor that sealed the deal with me was that they didn’t care about what my husband did in Iraq. They never asked us if he killed anyone, expected his psychiatrist to release all doctor’s notes or make any demands, or what he went through…they just focused their attention on what his needs now are and what our needs as a family were. You can’t find that information about families like ours on an application or get to know them.
Pairing the perfect Battle Buddy for my husband was a thorough process and one that I do believe was a match made in heaven. We didn’t care what kind of dog it was, didn’t matter where he came from as long as he was good for my husband, my kids and our other small dog. “Gunny” was after long deliberation, the perfect match they made. “Gunny” was actually scheduled to be euthanized when he was rescued. The months went by with phone calls and “Gunny’s” training with the Trainers. He surpassed his testing and before we knew it, we were on the plane to San Antonio, TX, where the foundation is located.
It feels like “Gunny” has always been with us from the first. He has the patience, the will to fight and never falters even when tasks involve a ton of people, stress and change of routines. “Gunny” is part of the family now and spoiled rotten. He plays hard and works even harder. The commands he learned are amazing and unless you have actually been around one of these dogs, you will never comprehend what dogs are doing for our Wounded Warriors.
Having a service animal is a challenge in today’s society and as most owners of them say, it’s a double edged sword. However, we find even with the staring, the stupid comments and questions, it’s worth it to see my husband have the willingness, courage and faith to get back out a little. It’s not a cure, and it’s not going to take all the bad things away but somehow it has made things easier and brought our family back together a little.
I can’t imagine a day that goes by without “Gunny” nearby. He is not only good for my husband in many ways, but good for me as well. He knows the days where I am sick and hurting, resting his head close or on the places that hurt me so badly. I have woken many nights to find him sitting on the bed and watching over my husband and will do so as long as it takes my husband to go to sleep or barking to wake him up from nightmares. The more he is with us, the more he picks up on routines, knows our behaviors and knows just the right moment to love on us as if to say “It’s ok, I’m here”.
The TADSAW program is in need of help to keep going. What started out small has become such a popular thing that they are experiencing worldwide cries for help just like they heard mine. On the average currently, most service animal or therapy dog organizations are about a 2-4 year wait. “Gunny” isn’t a full blooded dog, and God only knows what he is actually mixed with but to us he is an angel in disguise flying close to the ground and an answer to a long awaited prayer I have had. From start to finish, training a dog and getting through their ADA recognition, Good Canineship testing and everything else that goes with it, is approximately $2500.00. They are looking for additional sponsors for wounded warriors, sponsorships for their therapy dogs and help getting the Veterans there, a place to stay and be taken care of for three weeks. Based in TX, they are also looking for volunteers, foster care for dogs awaiting training, and help with the food, lodging and other incidentals that occur while the soldier/veteran is there training.
I challenge each of you to give back to those who gave us all. It’s easy for us to sit back and shed a tear for those who felt there was no hope left and against all odds, took their own lives. Somewhere out there, there is an animal who just longs for a home and love. Let’s pair them up and let them save each other. I want to thank TADSAW. There isn’t a day where “Gunny” hasn’t walked the civilian battlefield side by side, with my husband and I, leading the way. Every day I see my husband smile, have a purpose and a drive to keep going. That has been the greatest gift anyone could have ever given us and for that, we are forever thankful and indebted to you. You are our family now just as any TADSAW family has become to us. You should be proud of all you have done and your accomplishments but more importantly know that you saved so many from sinking when all doors were otherwise closed.
Uncle Sam’s Mistress – 11/16/17