The Beginning of a Beautiful Friendship
When U.S. Army Veteran Derek first got in touch with service dog training organization Northwest Battle Buddies, he had just left his third inpatient treatment stay at the VA for an attempted suicide. Derek had been diagnosed with complex PTSD, which was causing the veteran to experience extreme depression along with the inability to sleep and a fear of leaving his home.
Fortunately, the idea of getting a service dog was that spark of hope that Derek needed to start making changes in his life. After making it to a year of sobriety, Derek was able to finally meet service dog Bjorn. According to Derek, his relationship with Bjorn started out with a feeling of quiet hope that was shrouded with pain and a fear that what his dog was trying to accomplish was impossible. But fortunately for Derek, Bjorn was up to the challenge.
The Art of Distraction
Sometime after Derek’s first deployment to Afghanistan, the veteran began to get lost in thought. “Sometimes it’s just me thinking about a piece of furniture I’m designing,” Derek recalls. “But other times, my mind is back in Afghanistan, wandering into the void of destructive thoughts and ideations of self-harm.” After Derek’s son was born, these intrusive thoughts began to engulf Derek’s days even more. At times he would enter “the void” when holding his infant child, and his wife would take him out of his arms without Derek even noticing.
Thankfully, one of service dog Bjorn’s many talents has been breaking Derek away from the spiral of negative thoughts. In public, whenever Bjorn senses Derek starting to go into a negative head space, Bjorn will interrupt these thoughts by jamming his head in Derek’s hand and demanding a pet. If the flashbacks or thoughts of self-harm happen while at home, Bjorn will work his way right into Derek’s lap to refocus the veteran’s attention. According to Derek, “Bjorn never interrupts me while I’m lost in positive thought while creating things. He only grabs me when I’m flashing back. I don’t know how he knows. But he does.”
Newfound Peace at Night
Bjorn’s ability to calm Derek and redirect his negative thoughts isn’t limited to daylight hours. According to Derek’s wife, one of the first nights after Bjorn had come to live with the veteran, she woke up at 3 am and panicked when she did not see Derek in the room. “I was worried he would be up recouping from a nightmare or having negative thoughts.” She got up to look for Derek, only to find him in his workshop snoring and sleeping soundly with Bjorn laying directly on top of him. “When I woke up the next morning, I cried tears of joy. For the first time in over 10 years, I knew that I no longer had to wake at night to check on Derek.” From that night on, Bjorn has slept right next to Derek…or on top of him! And now, whenever Bjorn senses Derek having some distress while sleeping, Bjorn knows to paw at Derek to wake him up before the dream escalates into a full night terror. These skills have enabled Derek to sleep through the night without medication for the first time in nearly a decade.
Silent But Always Serving
Whenever Derek journeys out in public, Bjorn continues his job of calming the veteran. “I call Bjorn shadow because he is so quiet that I often don’t notice him,” says Derek’s wife. “But he’s always right by Derek’s side when we go out into the world, acting as a calming pillar of light for Derek. Even at large seated events, Bjorn will jump on Derek’s lap for some calming pressure therapy.”
And the difference Bjorn’s skills have made are noticeable to everyone in the family. “Now with Bjorn at his side, Derek goes places with his family, and is part of the memories. Derek has a job and he's the happiest I’ve ever seen him!” says Derek’s brother.
“Now that Derek has Bjorn, I feel that my daughter and her family are in a safe place now,” says Derek’s Mother-in-Law. “Bjorn is helping Derek and his entire family get a new chance at living life to the fullest.”
But it’s Derek himself, who is perhaps most appreciative of the transformation. “I have pushed myself farther than I have in a long time. I do so because I know that Bjorn will never quit on me. So I can’t quit on myself.”