After re-upping his enlistment in the Army after 9/11, Carlos Perez was in a convoy outside of Kirkuk, Iraq when an IED went off right under his Humvee. From that moment on, Carlos would never be the same. The first few years after returning home were difficult. The joy that used to bubble up out of Carlos’ stoic demeanor before the war was long gone. Work was tough for him. Just hearing his 1-year-old cry or scream would set him off. And leaving the house was out of the question for Carlos.
Ten years after the trauma, things weren’t managing to get any better for Carlos. Fortunately, his wife started hearing about psychiatric service dogs that could help people cope with PTSD, and she came across the Paws for Purple Hearts (PPH) service dog organization in her research. When PPH heard Carlos’s story and how badly he was suffering from PTSD all these years after coming back from the war, PPH took Carlos off the waiting list and told him to come out to their location to meet some of the dogs.
Carlos was drawn to service dog Liberty right away. And somehow, some way, the Golden Retriever was drawn to Carlos. It was like Liberty could sense Carlos’s pain immediately, and knew he needed help. The folks at PPH saw this natural connection, too, and knew Liberty was the service dog for Carlos.
Paws for Purple Hearts then set up an orientation period to help Liberty and Carlos learn one another. Liberty was already trained to perform over 110 skills, so learning her commands was almost like learning to drive a car for Carlos. But during that get-to-know-you period, the two started to form a deep bond. “There is a connection that I have never seen before between a dog and a human being,” Carlos’s wife says.
Because of her extensive training, Liberty has been able to apply a wide variety of skills to help mitigate Carlos’s PTSD symptoms. If Carlos is sitting down when he experiences anxiety, Liberty will perform deep pressure therapy by laying her two front legs and head down on Carlos’s lap until he releases her. If Liberty senses anxiety in Carlos while the veteran is standing up, the Golden Retriever will nudge Carlos with her nose to help bring him out of his head and refocus his thoughts on her. At night, depending on Carlos’s symptoms of distress, Liberty will either nudge him or pull the blanket off of Carlos to wake him up from a night terror. Carlos has also had Liberty enter into a dark room and turn on the lights ahead of him.
Not too long after Carlos got Liberty, he got a call from the LA Dodgers. At every home game the Dodgers bring a veteran out onto the field to show appreciation for their service, and they wanted to do this for Carlos. Carlos has loved the Dodgers since he was a kid. And yet, because of his anxieties, his family thought that Carlos would certainly say “no.” However, when Carlos found out he could bring Liberty out onto the field with him, he said “ok”.
At the game, when they brought Carlos out onto the field, his family could see on the JumboTron that the veteran was uncomfortable and overwhelmed. But as the stadium announcer began sharing Carlos’s story, Carlos began to simply focus on Liberty as she continued to nuzzle in on him and calm him down to get him through this event. Once the video was over, 50,000 people gave Carlos a standing ovation in the childhood ballpark that he used to come to with his dad as a kid.
According to Carlos’s wife, “There is not a chance this happens without Liberty in his life.”