Although Bill had thoroughly explained what I could expect during the SD4V training program, I was uncertain about my ability and about what SD4V could really do for me. As a graduate, I feel a great sense of accomplishment and proud that I was able to do things I didn’t think I could. The renewed confidence I feel will now help me pursue things I would not have before, such as helping other Veterans with similar needs.
The way the training was presented in small steps kept it from being overwhelming. The support I received, especially during many calls to Bill, was phenomenal. Always there to offer support, he understood my need to take care of my family and reaffirmed that I now was part of another family, the SD4V family.
My dog Jak, a rescue from a local shelter, has learned tasks center, block, cover, and push. All are important because they allow me to let my guard down and relax knowing Jak is watching for me. Before, I was anxious in public and hypervigilant, concerned that people were watching me. Now, with Jak by my side, I enjoy knowing that people are watching Jak instead of me which allows me to look forward to traveling more with my family.
Medication prescribed for me by the VA caused extreme and dramatic up and down swings with the downs causing suicidal ideation to become a big struggle. However, I have taken myself off those medications opting for natural medicines which have made a significant difference for me.
The training program and my dog Jak have been life-changing for both my family and me. In fact Jak lets me know what my children are feeling. If I raise my voice to them, he reacts by looking me in the eyes or performing a task right away knowing that I am feeling stressed. This is important feedback for me that no medication could do. In effect, Jak is my “emotional barometer”. I love that about him.
The new confidence I now have in myself and in Jak, is significant. For me, this proves the SD4V program works. Bill and the other trainers should continue doing what they do and help as many veterans as they can.
Rodney & Willow
Since I had been hanging out with SD4V Veteran graduates Steve Hartington, Gary Grzelecki and their service dogs, I knew what success looked like. That and the documentation SD4V provided helped me be prepared and gave me the confidence I would need to achieve my own success.
Willow is a large German shepherd my wife got for me from a breeder which I knew might take a bit of extra work. But now that she’s trained, I am able to take her out wherever I go and that’s good for both of us. Although her size tends to keep people from approaching me, Willow learned tasks of Cover and Block which are important because I have problems with strangers being too close.
My wife and son are tickled with the outcome they see since I went through the program. Prescribed medications I typically take have been reduced considerably leaving me feeling balanced and a lot less anxious. And my parents are amazed by the changes, specifically how much calmer I am now.
The biggest surprise for me was when Willow and I advanced from basic training to the intermediate and advanced training. This phase was “eye-opening” compared to basics. Using targets is downright genius and learning the importance of continuing to train at home has been really valuable. Having other veterans alongside me in classes and the camaraderie that comes from that always made me feel like I was with family.
That’s why I feel training alongside other Veterans and their dogs was a memorable part of the program. Now my biggest wish is that more Veterans learn about SD4V. Now that I can go out more frequently, I intend to mentor others and be a role model just as Steve & Gary were for me. With the training background I now have, it will be a reward to aid other Veterans with their own service dog training.
Bruce & Haley
When I was introduced to Haley, adopted by the SD4V Team from Greenville County Animal Care, it was like Haley adopted me and my wife Chris and our granddaughter Aaliyah. We all had an instant connection. Very soon Haley began sleeping with me and wakening me when I'm having nightmares. The result has been no more nightmares! I awaken more rested and have been able to back off most medications.
The improvement is significant enough for my therapist to minimize our number of sessions which allows more time to help my wife raise our granddaughter. Participating in class my granddaughter learned that when Haley is wearing her vest, Haley is 100% devoted to her 'Papa'. She has learned there are boundaries when Haley is wearing her vest which helps her understand that Papa sometimes needs Haley's help. When the vest comes off, Haley is very attentive and playful with her and they have the best time together. Having Haley as my service dog gave me a new beginning and there's no stopping us now. Concentrating on her in public distracts me from focusing on stressors and as a result I think less about 'scary things'.
Haley keeps me grounded and brings me back, snapping me out of a funk. She sleeps beside me and awakens me in the morning telling me it's time to get up. She gets me out of the chair, out of the house, and gives me a routine, something specific to do. One of her 4 Tasks is to Cover me when in line in a store. This gives me a strong sense of security and it's helped enormously. The most important result of being a service dog team is that my mental state now has balance in my physical life.
Was it worth the time and effort for training? Absolutely! I was pleasantly surprised at the friendships I made connecting with other Veterans andam happy to have found this network. I always felt supported especially when feeling down. Now I want to give back. Being around Bill Brightman makes you want to do that.
Steve & Barrett
As a way to help alleviate my own symptoms I volunteered to be Veteran Advocate for a wheelchair bound US Marine Veteran who was in the program training his dog. At one point Bill Brightman and the Dog Trainers Workshop staff told me about a dog named Barrett. Barrett had been adopted from Greenville County Animal Care, had a rough background but great potential, and he needed a home similar to what I could offer. As soon as I met him, it was incredible, like a match made in heaven. We needed each other and we knew it almost instantly!
When my Marine buddy graduated, I began the program with my new dog Barrett. I had high expectations, but found it was better than I had expected. Seeing how the program works, the changes in people and how their lives and that of their dogs have changed, were the most memorable aspects of the training for me. I was surprised that I actually finished because I typically do not finish things I sign on to. As one of twelve children in my immediate family, the connection with other Veterans as a military family is immensely important to me. That alone made the training absolutely worth the time and effort. And the support throughout the program was unbelievable.
The most important elements that have recently come into my life are my grandson, my service dog Barrett, other military Veterans and Veteran service dog teams. Barrett does many things for me and how he responds in different situations is important to both of us. He's learning to trust me and I stay within the dog's eyesight as it's important for him to be able to see me at all times.
My relationship with Barrett allows me to eliminate medications completely and rely on vitamins instead as I focus on getting healthy. Because of our partnership I intend to continue attending SD4V classes and offer my help to other Veterans. What I would say to any Veteran considering getting a service dog, "Go for it! No doubt about it; go for it! Having Barrett and the training is one of the best things that ever happened to me."