Friday, March 12, 2010

Stumbling Upon Puppies Behind Bars

Many, many counseling sessions throughout this journey have been spent on accepting that our military life is most likely going to end sooner rather than later.  Allen has been in the military one way or another, either active duty or guard, since he was 17 years old.  The military has been one of the most stable things in his entire adult life.  The mere idea of him not having this is something that brings great stress and anxiety into his life.  In order to deal with this reality, we have tried to come up with different ideas of things he could do with his new life, to still be a productive part of society.  Let me repeat, many hours of counseling have been spent on this very topic!!

One such session, the idea of dog training was brought up.  Allen loves dogs and that thought perked some interest in him.  So, I had the homework of trying to research and come up with some possible solutions.  I had heard about a program that took purple heart recipients, trained them to be dog trainers, used them to train dogs for other physically wounded vets.  The problem is I couldn't remember the name of the program!!  (I now know that it is Paws for Purple Hearts.)  So, while trying to search for this program I happened upon a program called Puppies Behind Bars.  A whole new idea began to form in my little head!!  

Puppies Behind Bars, is a program that utilizes inmates to train puppies to become service dogs for veteran's suffering from invisible wounds, as well as canine detection dogs.  I became obsessed with the PBB site!  I devoured every corner of it!  I couldn't get enough.  Their program for veteran's is called the Dog Tags Program.  This wonderful program trains service dogs and places them with wounded warriors suffering from PTSD and/or TBI.  I was hooked!! 

After I had learned as much as I could, I shared what I had found with Allen.  He was instantly interested, although, he rarely shows much emotion for anything.   With his permission, I took the next step and made the call.  I spoke with Kate at length about their program and the possibilities it could mean for our family.  I was in tears several times, just because of the hope this organization gave me!  Our next step was to fill out the application.

The application was not easy, especially for someone with concentration, memory, and motivation difficulties.  It required a lot of personal information as well as personal referrals, doctor referrals, and I don't remember what else!  But, I was convinced this could be life changing for him and our family.  (Because everything that affects the wounded, also affects the entire family.  So many forget the family part!)  We finally got everything ready and submitted sometime in October 2008.  

If Allen was accepted, we would both have to go train with the dog for 2 weeks.  Since he was still active duty (med hold status), we would have to get this approved with his command.  It wasn't very long and we got the phone call that he was approved!  We were both so excited!  This news actually brought out the most emotion I had seen in Allen in a long time, probably since his injury!  I knew that great things were to come.  Sometime in early December we were asked if we could travel to Colorado for the training for the second and third weeks in January.  We immediately jumped through all the hoops of getting it approved through command and thought we were on our way.  About a week later, the military informed us that the same day we were supposed to be going to train with his dog, instead we now had to report for his MEB and there was no changing it.  We were both devastated and were very concerned that this could cost him his dog.  Thankfully, PBB ended up pushing the training back 2 weeks so that we could still make it.  This also meant we were going to be away from our kids for an entire month!

From the time we found out that we were, without a doubt, going to be able to go, the time couldn't have went more slow!  It was fun though.  It was exciting to see how Allen was changing before ever even getting his dog.  He became more engaged, more animated, and more involved in everything.  I finally had some hope!!  I used to tease him that he acted like we were expecting a baby, not a dog!!

So, stumbling upon Puppies Behind Bars totally changed our life.  However, we still have yet to deal with finding something he can do with his time to be a productive part of society again.  Currently, we are quickly approaching his retirement date of May 24, 2010 and have yet to figure out what retirement is going to look like!  Someday I hope we figure it out!!

Even Now........Gina

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