Before getting service dog Maverick, U.S. Air Force Veteran Wendy was in a state of high stress all the time. Her crippling anxiety from her PTSD was causing her to lose her independence. “I joined the military to get out and see the world,” says Wendy. “And when that all shattered, I had to start my life again. But my spirit was taken away. I wouldn’t leave my house. I felt like I was in a wheelchair.”
One evening, an interview with a local veteran service dog training organization came on the TV. At first, Wendy wasn’t convinced she wanted to pursue a service dog. But Wendy’s boyfriend at the time knew this was a therapy that the Veteran needed to try. And so one day without notice he told her to get in the car and the pair drove to Brooksville, Florida to meet the people at K9 Partners for Patriots.
After visiting K9 Partners for Patriots, Wendy still wasn’t sure she wanted a service dog. “I thought the dog would completely hinder me,” says Wendy. “There was no way I was going to go out in public with a dog. I didn’t want to acknowledge that I have a disability.”
Even after the Air Force Veteran was paired with service dog Maverick, she was still reluctant for quite a few months. But Maverick never conceded his support. “At first, I flat out refused him,” says Wendy. “But, of course, I had to keep walking him because he had to pee. And I had to take him to training as part of the program requirements at K9 Partners. And so over time, all these little steps began to change things. Slowly, I was starting to get out of the house.”
After Wendy began to accept Maverick’s role as a service animal, the dog’s training and extreme attentiveness began to pay off in spades.
Wendy describes her anxiety being so severe and progressing so quickly that common mental redirections like reading or counting aren’t able to work for her. But Maverick does. “Maverick will try to jump up in my lap all the time when I get anxious,” says Wendy. “He’s 80 pounds. So he’s not a small dog. But when I’m about to have a panic episode, that’s what he does. He snaps me out of it. He’s able to take my anxiety away and makes me focus on him.” One time, the service dog went so far as to push Wendy out of a chair to get her to stop with the anxious thoughts and redirect her attention on him. As Wendy describes, “Early on, I would push him away, but finally I started to realize what was going on with me and that Maverick was trying to help.”
Nowadays, Wendy says Maverick is able to stop her oncoming panic about 98% of the time. “And if I ignore him, he’ll continue poking at me and poking at me until I finally acknowledge his presence.”
Maverick is also able to help Wendy acquire a more restful night's sleep. “In the middle of the night while I’m sleeping, just at the start of a nightmare — which happens several times a week — Maverick will put his nose right under my chin and will throw my head off the pillow. And I’ll wake up to my head being completely moved.”
Now Wendy not only has the courage to venture outside her home, she has the confidence to travel and see the world as she had originally wanted from life. And Maverick’s skills and responsiveness have been pivotal in helping her reclaim this independence. “When I’m in the airport and there’s a crowd, he will block when someone gets close and he’ll turn and walk backward,” says Wendy. “He’s giving me the ability to experience life again. I would never have flown by myself ever!”
Maverick’s support has also made it possible for Wendy to attend school. The Veteran now holds three college degrees and works as a nurse paramedic while currently working toward her masters in emergency and disaster management. “Who does this in such a short period of time?!” exclaims Wendy.
“I was so miserable and sad for so many years. But Maverick has restored my confidence and widened my world. I think of what I could have had when I was 19 years old, before all this stuff happened. But the potential that I had then is now back because of Maverick. My desire to learn. My desire to get out in the world and help others. I don’t even need to take Xanax anymore. I can drive, I can fly. He’s given me that ability…and it’s liberating!”