Dogs leading veterans out of the darkness

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Editor’s note: This is the third story in a five-part series on the Pets and Vets program at Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation in Walnut Creek. Today’s installment looks at how these rescue dogs have changed veterans’ lives. Find Part I and Part II here.

For Maddy Gibson, life is hazily divided between the darkness and the light, the loneliness and the comfort, the fear and the peace.

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The demarcation between the halves is Lady, a 5-year-old Basenji mix with a fierce curiosity for everything, but a shyness around other dogs. Lady, a rescue, is Gibson’s service dog, and the touchstone that allows Gibson to venture out into a world that once seemed too harsh.

“She’s changed my life so much,” says Gibson, a 38-year-old Navy veteran. “Before, I didn’t get out of bed much. I didn’t go out much. To me, the world was terrible and humans were awful.”

Gibson and Lady are graduates of the Pets and Vets service dog program offered by Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation in Walnut Creek. The training connects veterans with rescued dogs that have passed testing to become service animals. The vets and their dogs go through several months of training, with the vets learning to work with their animals and the dogs learning how to support their veterans.

Gibson, a native Texan who lives in Oakland now, joined the Navy in 2006 and spent six years in the service working as a sonar technician on destroyers. During her time, she had three deployments — two in the Mediterranean and one working in a counter-drug operation in Central and South America.

Part of the reason she enlisted was to see the world — and she did — but after leaving the Navy, her world shrank to a single room. “There were a lot of things I wanted to do,” she says, “but I just couldn’t. I stayed in a bad relationship; I stayed inside.”

The stress of what her experiences in the military, coupled with what she calls being “technically homeless” took a devastating toll on her mental health. Diagnosed with PTSD and battling severe depression, she began isolating herself, walling herself away from

Source:: The Mercury News – Lifestyle


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