Just a few months before meeting service dog Ivy, U.S. Army Veteran Todd was on the brink of ending his life. “I felt like I could not go on anymore. I was tired of trying and failing and I couldn’t stand the possibility of disappointing one more person, especially my family members,” Todd recalls. “The only way to stop that would be to stop “me.’
Fortunately, a well-timed conversation with a fellow veteran inspired Todd to apply for a service dog to help manage his PTSD. Little did he know that his future canine hero would be a formerly-rescued and lovably-persistent Great Pyrenees named Ivy.
From the moment Todd first met Ivy at Operation Freedom Paws, they felt a deep connection. “My first introduction to Ivy was out of a movie,” Todd recalls. “Ivy came out, ran up to me, and gave me an actual hug. This was not the jumping up and licking you type of scene you are probably imagining. It was a gentle, actual, wrap-her-arms-around-my-waist-and-don’t-let-go bear hug. And it’s exactly what I needed.”
Perhaps one of Ivy’s greatest skills is her ability to smell a change in Todd’s body chemistry when the veteran is in a crowded social situation and starts to get hypervigilant, angry, or anxious. When Ivy detects a change in Todd’s smell, the service dog will begin to nudge the veteran’s hand and lean on him. But if Todd doesn’t respond, Ivy will then go into “intelligent disobedience” mode and will begin tugging and chewing on her leash. Ivy will even physically pull Todd away from a situation if warranted. Over time, this interruptive skill of Ivy’s has helped Todd to feel safer in crowded spaces and more comfortable interacting with others. Recently, Todd was even able to attend the wedding of his niece — a crowded event that he would never have attempted to join prior to getting Ivy.
Another skill of Ivy’s is that she’ll go into a new room ahead of Todd to survey the environment. This helps alleviate the feeling of threat before Todd enters a space. If there is something in the room that would make Todd uncomfortable, Ivy will smell it and immediately perform a “block” in front of Todd so that he cannot move forward into the space.
Todd is now celebrating a year clean and sober thanks in large part to Ivy’s support. And while Todd has experienced both ups and downs since the two became “battle buddies,” Ivy has always been there to help Todd get up after every fall by reminding him that she loves him and believes in him.
“Ivy has given me a second chance at life — a chance for my daughter to still have a father and for me to stay happily married to the love of my life, my incredible wife,” says Todd. “I imagine I feel like what a terminal cancer patient might feel like who is living every day past the day they were supposed to die. I now cherish every minute of every day since the day I chose not to leave this earth. I WANT TO LIVE!”