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Review for Southeastern Guide Dogs, Inc., Palmetto, FL, USA

Rating: 5 stars  

I’d like to take the time to tell my story of how
Southeastern Guide Dogs saved my life by giving me my
best friend, Hooch. Unlike most best friends, mine
is covered in fur, has a tail that wags like a top notch
propeller, and instead of a handshake he prefers licking
my face until it appears as if I just came out of the shower.
I know that description doesn’t sound appealing to most,
but in my opinion it’s perfect and I wouldn’t have it any
other way.

When I was 17 I joined the U.S. Marines and
deployed to the Sangin district of Afghanistan for 10
months. As a 20/21 year old in combat, the experiences
and actions that were made, had to be done to ensure the
safety and survival of myself, and my brothers that were
with me during it all. I saw and did things that I’d never
imagine, that I never knew existed, and that I’d never be
able to forget. But this isn’t about those experiences and is
not a therapy session. This is about my recovery and the
goldador who made such a thing possible for me.
Following deployment I began to realize that I wasn’t
right. Nothing was right, but I tried to force myself to act
like it was. My life has never plummeted like it did after
Afghanistan. I walked around with a fake smile and a
source of alcohol and drugs at all times thinking that was
normal. I called it a “coping mechanism”. For the record, if
you’re a 21 year old using drugs and alcohol to make you
seem normal like all of your chipper friends and then pre
meditating the end of your life with an optimistic feeling
towards the thought, then that is not a successful “coping
mechanism”. In denial of being clinically insane, and
wanting to avoid ridicule from the majority of the big bad
Marine Corps who say that mental illness after war is for
the weak, I sought treatment. Immediately, I was
diagnosed with a Traumatic Brain Injury, and PTSD.
Before treatment began, I was transferred to Wounded
Warriors Battalion on Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. First
step: Medication. Long story short, I am now 26 years old
and over the course of treatment I have been prescribed
to 46 different medications and a max of 15 a day. This
may remind you of a lab rat, or a guinea pig if you will.
With all of these medications, I still could not escape the
pain, guilt, regret, and hatred towards myself that I was
constantly feeling. So I took my self medicating to a new,
and more dangerous level. Drugs and alcohol became a
necessity for me to function in everyday life. I was an
empty vessel walking amongst people who I considered
an enemy, and a threat towards my life. By people, I mean
everyone; including my best friends, my mother who has
loved me unconditionally since the day she gave birth to
me, and my entire family. My brother John who is my idle
and inspiration for many things, wasn’t my brother in my
mind. He was another living life form, and possible target if
he were to approach me in any way I found aggressive.
As you can see, I was lost, sick, and absolutely out of my mind.

One day my physiologist suggested a service dog for
TBI, and PTSD. Something I have never heard of, nor did I
care or think it would help. Thankfully, it wasn’t up to me; it
was in the hands of the licensed physician who provided
me with the answer to my prayers, and the start to getting
my life back. After months of paperwork and going through
the eligibility process, I was approved for a Veteran
service dog provided by Southeastern Guide Dogs of
Palmetto, FL. March 15th was the day I traveled to the
guide dog organization to begin the two week class,
educating me about service dogs and how to command
and co exist with one for mutual benefits. The first day
upon arrival is when you meet the rest of your six student
class, and let the trainers get to know everything about
you. The good and the bad, but no dogs were provided
yet. Little did I know, March 16th would be the day that my
life would change forever. We were told to wait in our
rooms, which were provided on the campus of SEGD. I
hear the commotion in the hallways consisting of multiple
footsteps, and whatever was moving was moving with a
purpose. I now feel threatened and defense/survival
instincts snap into action. But when my door opened I
unexpectedly had to look down to see what this target/
threat was. I then looked into the eyes of a black Lab/
Retriever and suddenly felt absolutely no feeling of threat
or fear. I sat on the floor because I had to get closer to this
dog who was able to make me feel like I did before
Afghanistan, before the drugs and alcohol, when I was
simply just happy. My new best friend’s name was
“Hooch”. Perfect. Everything about him was, and still is,

It’s been about 2 1/2 years now since Hooch and I
were paired but within days he started to change my life. I
began feeling happiness again, when I thought there was
no such thing. I reconnected with people, who I
considered a threat to me, only to know that they’ve cared
for me the entire time. I know Hooch won’t be alive forever
but, with tears in my eyes, what I can honestly say is that
he will always be with me, and I with him. I love him with
all my heart, and I owe him my life. A special thanks to
Southeastern Guide Dogs for saving my life by bringing
me together with, my best friend, Hooch.

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