Before meeting his service dog Eagle, U.S. Navy Veteran Joe was living a very different life. Due to hypervigilance, anxiety and depression, Joe’s days were completely consumed by negative thoughts and emotions. His desire to avoid others and isolate himself was causing Joe to lose friends and miss out on important family events. But the isolation wasn’t even the worst part. According to Joe, he had lost the ability to feel happy about anything. “I was suffering in silence. But I was tired, and knew I needed help.”
After months of exploring standard treatments at the VA without much success, Joe set out to find alternative options for dealing with his PTSD. Eventually Joe came in contact with K9s for Warriors, a Florida-based veteran service dog training organization. And through K9s for Warriors, Joe was eventually connected with service dog Eagle. When Eagle’s trainer first handed Eagle’s leash to Joe, the Flat-Coated Retriever came right over to the Veteran’s side and laid against his leg. At that moment, Joe knew that Eagle was exactly what he had been looking for.
With service dog Eagle by his side, Joe began gaining the confidence to venture out in public. And to Joe’s amazement, the experiences were dramatically different than before. “Before I used to struggle when leaving the house — especially in places like stores, parking lots, and social settings,” says Joe. “I was constantly ready for a fight, looking over my shoulder, and scanning for threats. But with Eagle, for the first time in over a decade, I wasn’t looking over my shoulder or worrying what might happen. The only thing I was focused on was Eagle. It was like the person standing on my chest had finally decided to move on. I could breathe again.”
One specific example of Eagle’s anxiety-reducing abilities that sticks out in Joe’s mind happened while the pair was attending a convention. As Joe was walking through the crowd, Eagle could sense Joe’s anxiety was escalating. So the service dog began bumping into Joe’s leg, trying to get in front of Joe and get the Veteran’s attention. When Joe finally stopped to acknowledge Eagle, the service dog immediately stood up on his hind legs and placed his two front paws on the Veteran’s chest as though he was hugging Joe. This form of standing pressure therapy instantly worked to take Joe’s mind off of the crowd while calming his panic symptoms and creating a sense of security.
Another skill of Eagle’s that enables Joe to feel more secure when venturing out of his home is a type of backside surveillance. When Joe needs to face away from others to look at items in a store, Eagle will come around to Joe’s right side, sit down, and look out over the Veteran’s backside. If anyone approaches, Eagle will stand to alert Joe. This “look” command that Joe frequently uses with Eagle has given the Veteran the peace of mind to shop without being in constant fear of what’s going on around him.
The “look” command also comes into play when arriving home. According to Joe, “Unlocking a door used to be a fight or flight moment for me to stand there, vulnerable, in what we referred to in the military as the ‘fatal funnel’ when entering buildings.” But now that Eagle instinctually knows to turn and face behind Joe and scan the area, Joe no longer has those feelings of panic. “Now I know he has my back.”
The life-changing impact that Eagle has made in Joe’s life is undeniable. Rather than continuing to isolate and avoid others, Joe is able to reengage in the world and be present in the moment thanks to Eagle’s specialized skills and constant support. “Eagle was my missing puzzle piece,” says Joe. “Instead of constant hypervigilance, depression, and fear over how I will make it through another day, my life has been filled with unconditional love, cuddling, face licks, and adventures. Eagle has given me hope and purpose.”