Until experiencing the life-changing benefits of a service dog, U.S. Navy Veteran Sondra Baier didn’t realize that her PTSD, MST, and depression were robbing her of a life that was “far better than merely existing.” According to Sondra, “I used to be scared and unwilling to do much because of the deterioration of my abilities. The PTSD told me I wouldn’t amount to anything again after the service. The military sexual trauma left me nervous and super anxious. And the depression told me to give up on life.” But now that Sondra has been paired with service dog Bobby, that has all changed.
Bobby, the Chocolate Labrador Retriever, has quickly learned that one of the keys to improving Sondra’s daily life is to make his support known before Sondra even gets out of bed. According to the veteran, the pair have developed quite the morning routine. “First thing when I wake up, I say ‘good morning’ to Bobby and he will wag his tail, come to me, and then we’ll exchange kisses — as many as I need to get me started.” Sondra states that this consistent interaction helps clear her head of any lasting night terrors she might have experienced while sleeping. “Before I even get up, he has already helped me reset my thinking and gets me motivated to not just face the day, but start it with purpose.”
Due to Sondra’s PTSD and MST, things like standing in store lines or being approached by strangers would frequently trigger feelings of panic. But now she has Bobby and his breadth of support skills to help mitigate her anxiety and hypervigilance. When Sondra must walk through a public place, Bobby will walk slightly in front of the Veteran while continuously scanning the environment from left to right in order to help ease Sondra’s mind. And when standing in line, the Chocolate Lab will perform a skill called “post” in which he positions himself between Sondra’ legs and looks out over her backside to help the Veteran stay still and focused on the task at hand. Even when Sondra is seated somewhere, she can feel Bobby always looking back and forth, checking out the environment they are in, which she says helps immensely to calm her and prevent a possible panic attack.
Because of Bobby’s intuition and training, Sondra now chooses to go out in public deliberately. “I’ll test my comfort level in crowds like it’s a whole new (and unfrightening) world out there,” Sondra says. Additionally, because of Bobby, Sondra says she not only tolerates strangers now, but can actually hold down conversations with them. “I now have the confidence to engage with strangers who approach me because of the beautiful dog by my side. I will get an overwhelming feeling of satisfaction and even linger to chat!”
The confidence Sondra has gained from Bobby’s support has also enabled her to attend school again. “Normally 30 to 40 people in a classroom setting would make me so anxious that I would often find an excuse to not attend classes,” says Sondra. “Whenever I did find enough courage, I would be so in my own head about all the ‘what if’ scenarios that I wasn’t capable of sustaining any information or even being mentally present. But with Bobby now beside me, showing his usual self-confidence, I will often mimic his attitude. And when I do start to get anxious, he lays his head on my knee to put the attention back on him until I can retain my focus back on school again.”
Since leaving the military, Sondra reports she has experienced feelings of inadequacy to downright hopelessness due to “having lost my identity of being a Sailor.” But having Bobby put on a uniform every day reminds her that she and Bobby have a job to do, which gives Sondra a sense of pride again.
“Bobby turns on something magical in me and I get excited about the day knowing he is on duty,” says Sondra. “I get to be on another kind of mission with him: Mission Live Again. Bobby has saved my life. I don’t feel isolated or alone anymore. I have a best friend I need to take care of and, in turn, I have a hero to take care of me and help me be a better civilian every day.”