When veterans return home from war, the road to healing can be a complex process.
Tonight in part two of Brenna Kelly’s special report, you’ll meet a graduate of the program. Naval veteran Michael Wedge says his service dog, Sis, has changed his life.
With decreased anxiety he can face crowds, grocery stores, and restaurants with little fear, so long as Sis is by his side.
Meet Michael Wedge.
“When you first meet your sweetheart, you know what I mean? That type of feeling. I mean I love my wife, don’t get me wrong. She’s right there,” said Michael Wedge, a graduate of Paws for Peace.
“Sometimes I wonder,” laughed Debbie Wedge, his wife.
It’s a rare kind of love – one that starts small, but blossoms into something that will change both lives forever.
Just a man and his dog.
“Here she was just looking at me with those brown eyes,” said Michael.
Michael never thought after the service he’d be able to think ‘we’ instead of ‘me’ again, but he welcomed the idea.
Sis joined the Wedges in Hampden about a year ago.
Like all dogs Embrace A Vet finds, Sis was saved from an animal shelter ahead of Michael’s training classes in Bangor.
“It just felt right, that she was the right one for me,” he said.
They picked each other. Little did Michael know, Sis would turn his life around – peel back the rough exterior Debbie thought would be a permanent side effect of the Cold War.
“A different Mike was appearing. The one that I first fell in love with that was coming back to me,” said Debbie.
Sis continues to bring constant therapy to Michael’s life. As training with North Edge K9 intensified, Michael’s marriage got stronger.
“We don’t argue as much. There’s no bickering. We used to fight all the time. I used to feel like I had to walk on eggshells because I didn’t know what I might say or do that would make him flash back,” said Debbie.
“I’m sorry, Deb,” said Michael.
“You don’t have to be sorry, honey. It’s not your fault,” said Debbie.
“I didn’t know I had it,” said Michael.
“That’s the trouble. It’s not their fault,” said Debbie.
Michael says if he hadn’t been able to adopt a service dog he’d be…
“Probably divorced,” said Michael.
“Yep,” Debbie agreed.
“Probably in a mental institution. Probably heavily ‘drugged by the VA,'” he said.
So his mission now is outreach and education.
“If I could help one veteran…him or her to get a dog that could change their lives like Sis has changed my life. To ease the pain. To have someone to wake you up, give you hugs, give you a warm bath with her tongue like she’s done in the past,” said Michael.
He says that would be the ultimate gift.
In the four-month Paws For Peace program, veterans are taught how to train their own dogs. In order to be considered a service dog, they must perform a task related to the illness. Michael taught Sis to help with his anxiety caused by PTSD. She’s his second pair of eyes.
There are more than 20-million veterans living in the United States. A V.A. study shows 20 will commit suicide each day. If you’re living with PTSD or traumatic brain injury and would like more information on Paws for Peace or want to help by volunteering or donating to Embrace A Vet, visit their website.