The Triple Entendre
Most of you who follow my posts, or who follow me on one of my social networks know that:
During my service I sustained the normal wear-and-tear injuries (knees, ankles, etc. from parachuting; hearing from gunfire, explosions, helicopters; and more…), but I also sustained some significant damage when I was wounded (blown up), to include TBI (traumatic brain injury), lungs (burned), heart, eyes, inner ear (affecting balance), spinal injuries, etc. In addition, because of the repeated involvement in combat situations in multiple wars/conflicts, the effects over the years (cumulative and untreated) resulted in fairly significant PTS(d).
When I started going through a bad time in 2013/2014, I decided to do something about it, so I contacted K9s For Warriors and applied for the program. It was a very involved process, because they check and verify your medical records, military records, financials, home situation, and more, to decide if you are in fact a Veteran that qualifies under the program, have the issues you say you have, that a service dog would be a good fit, and that you can provide a loving, safe and appropriate home for the dog – who is almost certainly going to be a rescue dog (95%).
After all that, they have you come down to their facility for a three-week intensive live-in training program with your new partner (K9), who has already been through 6-8 months of basic training, as well as up to 3 months of specific training focusing on your particular issues… And the intensive training continues for the first full month after you return home!
Man – and I thought boot camp was rough! (well…actually it was…).
Now here’s the rub. There are additional costs – different for each K9 / Warrior team. For me, it was significant, mainly because of the serious asthma I suffer from as a result of the burned lungs, as well as additional complications from the heart injuries that compound the effects. It turns out that dog dander (and dust) is a big trigger for asthma – and Labradors have skin and dander issues…
Bringing Freedom home was killing me (mostly figuratively). I couldn’t breathe. I was having serious asthma attacks, and ended up in urgent / emergency room care numerous times – coughing my lungs out (I have cough-variant asthma), and having significant trouble breathing. Any activity other than sitting in my recliner with a nebulizer on my face was out of the question.
We tackled that issue with numerous solutions:
And after months of working on this, I still have asthma attacks – just not as serious (usually…), and not as frequently.
This is not the only cost. As anyone with a Service Dog can tell you, there are daily assaults on your privacy – people just can’t leave you alone when you have a dog. Some have good intentions, some are just ignorant, and some are downright hostile and angry. A good friend of mine (William “Rick” Smith) wrote a great guest post about K9 Protocol – what do you do when dealing with a K9 / Handler team.
A big one, at least for me, is the notoriety and stigma of having a dog with you everywhere you go. Everyone looks at you (actually, the dog), and many folks, even some of your closest friends and family will never understand – they may be embarrassed to be with you, may think you have the dog for attention or as a crutch, or that people will think you are mentally weak or unbalanced.
All told, it is a heavy price to pay to have Freedom here with me. Is it all worth it? Absolutely. I can’t imagine him not being here with me.
So…let’s tally up the cost of Freedom!
America’s Military serving to preserve your (our) “Freedom”: Many servicemembers injured, physically, emotionally and/or spiritually, by the effects of their service to this great nation. Many others killed or who have died (immediately or over a long period of time) as a result of their service to keep our Country strong and free.
The financial cost – over $20,000 – to train “Freedom” (and me), as well as the hundreds or even thousands of dollars I’ve personally spent (and will spend) in costs to keep him, to compensate for the disabilities I have due to my military service, in peacetime and in war. Additionally, the emotional cost – the stigma and additional strain caused by attitudes towards what some believe to be just “vets with pets” – which are in fact life-saving service dogs (see Rick’s post).
And the actual cost of my dog “Freedom”, and what he brings to my life? Priceless…