Service Dog Huey

Huey’s Story

After spending 17 years in the Army, military life was all Ramon knew. But when he was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury from events that occurred in Iraq, Ramon’s military career was cut short. And it took many years for the Veteran to accept the fact that he was disabled.

“There are many casualties of war that go unnoticed, unappreciated, or unacknowledged, and I really felt like one of them,” says Ramon. “I speak from my own experience when I say that the unseen wounds that so many of us carry can be, and are, just as deadly as an IED or mortar round. The difference is that I was trained to defend myself from these man-made weapons. But when it came to the aftermath of what went on in my mind, I stood defenseless.”

Fortunately with the help of Operation Freedom Paws (OFP), a California-based service dog training organization, Ramon WOULD eventually receive the tools and training to help battle his inner turmoil. And the key to this was service dog Huey. From the moment Ramon met Huey at OFP, the pair had an incredible bond. “Huey came up to me right away and hugged me. Then he jumped into my lap and just sat quietly,” says Ramon. “We bonded right away.”

After their pairing, Ramon and Huey continued formal training together for the next year — time which enabled the service dog to really understand the nuances of Ramon’s behaviors and physiology and know when Ramon is in a good place or when he’s in need of assistance. For example, symptoms of Ramon’s TBI include both dizzy spells and intense migraines. With dizzy spells, Ramon says, “Huey can detect when a spell is coming on by smelling the changes in my body chemistry.”  When this happens, the service dog will go and stand right in between Ramon’s legs to hold him up and help him balance. And sure enough, within a matter of seconds, Ramon will start to get dizzy and Huey will already be right there in place to balance him.

Huey is also able to smell when Ramon is going to get a migraine well in advance of when the migraine actually hits. Because of this, every morning Ramon has Huey smell him right when he wakes up. And if the service dog licks Ramon’s ear after smelling him, then Ramon knows he has a migraine coming and needs to take his medicine. “Because of Huey’s ability to do this, by the time my migraine hits, it’s just a mild headache rather than a full-blown debilitating migraine.”

The ways in which Huey has been able to mitigate Ramon’s PTSD and TBI symptoms have been infinite. The service dog can quell Ramon’s anxiety at home with a jump into his lap or a lick of his face. He can physically pull the Veteran away from triggers in a public crowd. The Chocolate Lab was even able to detect a serious bleeding ulcer in the Veteran before a doctor diagnosed it. But according to Ramon, out of all Huey’s remarkable skills, perhaps the most critical one has been the service dog’s ability to play the role of family interpreter.

When Ramon first came back into civilian life, he was unable to open up to his family about anything. Ramon’s wife was struggling to find ways to help Ramon cope with his new challenges while raising their two children. But Ramon wouldn’t talk. Instead, when anyone in the family would inquire about him, he would lash out angrily.

But over time, little by little, the Veteran began to open up to Huey. Many times the service dog would remain quietly at Ramon’s side, providing judgment-free support. But other times, if the Veteran was feeling really down, Huey would go right over to Ramon’s wife and begin nudging her to get her attention and then walk back towards Ramon to let his wife know that the Veteran was in a bad place and she needed to check in on him. Because of this forced interaction, Ramon eventually began to talk to his wife and children about his frustration with his situation and disabilities. “The biggest thing Huey has helped me to do is become the father and husband that I once was,” says Ramon. “With my pride, I would say I’m fine. I’m doing good,” says Ramon. “But Huey was like, ‘no, you’re not doing good’ and was letting me know. So all of his actions helped me to open up to my family and let them know what I was thinking.”

Six years ago, when Ramon decided to get in contact with Operation Freedom Paws, he just wanted to get back to “normal” — just like most of the veterans who apply for a service dog. And while Ramon’s life can never be exactly how it was before his time in service, it is clear that Huey has made an extraordinary impact on helping restore Ramon’s happiness and reconnecting him with his loved ones.

“I shut myself down from everyone, I pushed my family away. I had incredible anger. But ever since Huey has come into our lives, it’s gotten easier. Huey has awakened a part of me that has been dormant since my return from Iraq. Rather than isolating myself and pushing away my family, I’ve been able to do things with my wife and my kids. I’m able to enjoy myself again in their company.”

Today, Ramon pays it forward as a mentor and trainer at Operation Freedom Paws, where he is able to share his skills and experience with other veterans. “Every day is a struggle and I know life will never be the same,” says Ramon. “But with Huey, I can make the impossible possible. Now I can stand up tall, head held high and be able to say with pride, ‘I am a disabled veteran.’”

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