So I’m going to be sharing the story about my beautiful service dog, Stella. After my stroke and an incident at the hospital, I began to suffer from PTSD and one of the side effects I started experiencing was night terrors. I have had nightmares before, but night terrors are a different beast. Think of it as a real life horror movie. Intense. Having a night terror is bad enough, but I was having them 5-6 nights a week. Like clockwork, at 3 AM, I would wake up in a panic and my girlfriend, Felice would have to help wake me up and comfort me. It became a big problem so after dealing with this for some time, we looked into getting a service animal for me. Felice has a friend that volunteered often at a shelter in Los Angeles called Karma Rescue that has a program called Paws For Life. What they do is place rescue dogs with inmates in Lancaster prison and have a trainer come teach the inmates to train the dogs as psychiatric service dogs. It’s a beautiful program for everyone involved. PTSD sufferers like me get a trained service dog, the prisoners find purpose and a way to give back to society and it gives the rescue dogs a forever home.
So before I get into how I got my beautiful pup, I’ll start with my background with dogs. When I was a kid living in New York I had a few dogs. The family dog was Mindy. She was a Wire Hair Fox Terrier. Mindy was such a sweet dog. Loving and smart. She was the family dog, yes, but mostly my mother’s dog. When my mother decided to leave my sperm-donor, we weren’t able to take her with us to California. Sadly a few months after we left, she passed away. I believe she died of a broken heart. We had other dogs before and during our time with Mindy, but they all paled in comparison to her. There was our German Shepherd named Scooby, but unfortunately, my sperm-donor was abusive and would beat him so eventually Scooby hopped the fence and ran away. My mother spotted him not long after at a gas station a few miles away. He looked happy and loved so she left him there to live his new life. We had a Chihuahua named Mork who was a little shit that bit me so my mom gave him to my aunt. After that, we had a puffball named Lady. She didn’t last long because my sperm donor accidentally backed over her in the driveway. That was it for me and dogs for decades.
Fast forward to now, Felice’s friend who volunteered with Karma Rescue gave us a heads up that a close to pure breed Golden Retriever named Stella had just come in. We were lucky enough to get the heads up about her availability before the general public. Felice told me she was a large Golden Retriever. I always wanted a medium smooth haired dog, not a large hairy dog so I was less than thrilled, but she asked me to just go see her anyway. I reluctantly agreed. The entire ride to see her I was saying in my head, “Forget this dog. I’m just humoring Felice. This is a waste of time. I don’t care how cute she is or how good she’ll be for me. I want a small smooth haired dog. Screw this dog.” That was my mindset at least until I got there and saw her. As soon as they brought her out my eyes teared up and I cried like a little kid. She was so beautiful and loving. She was majestic and sweet. She was perfect. I said yes, she’s the one. After that, she was sent to Lancaster prison to train in the Paws For Life program. A few months later I was able to bring my pup home.
Stella didn’t go through the year long Psychiatric Service Dog (PSD) training through Paws For Life. Instead, she went through 3 months of training with them and it was up to me and Felice to continue her service dog training when we brought her home which we did and continue to do so. When she came home, initially, she was mainly trained to alert me if I was feeling down or crying by jumping up on me to nudge me and snap me out of it. What was amazing is that with a few little adjustments, she fell right into her “work” of alerting and calming me down during night terrors. When I would have a night terror episode, she would come jump up and hit me in the face with her giant paw and nudge me with her nose until I calmed down. About a month after bringing her home, I was no longer waking Felice up in the middle of the night with my night terrors because Stella would catch them early on. After a couple of months, my night terrors went down from 5-6 times a week to 2-3 times a week. That was amazing enough, but after the first month or so she did something even more incredible. She started catching my night terrors before they happened. She would wake me up with a paw to the face or a nudge with her nose followed by forcing me to pet her until I calmed down. At first it was strange waking up to your dog breathing hot breathe in your face at 3 in the morning, but once I realized how amped up I was when she would wake me, I realized that she had stopped my night terror before it really started to happen. I’m happy to say that I’m going on over 8 months of no major night terrors thanks to my super hero pup. And we are continuing to train her on new tasks and work that helps me with some other effects of my PTSD.
Stella has meant so much to me. She has given me an important part of my life back. I no longer fear sleep. She’s with me 90% of my day. Her bed is right next to me and she is always a few feet away during my waking hours. Our daily walks give me the routine I need post stroke and her loving comfort means the world to me. She’s really so sweet and calm (unless you’re a squirrel). I am now a Golden Retriever guy. I love my dog so very much. She has been an amazing teammate through this difficult journey to recovery. My girlfriend, my occupational therapist, and my dog are a dream team for me. Recovery has been the most difficult thing I have had to go through. I can’t put into words how frustrating and lonely recovery can be. My girlfriend has been the most important figure in my recovery. She is here with me day in and day out fighting for me. My occupational therapist goes above and beyond for me and now my dog has filled the gaps in for my day to days. My pup loves me unconditionally and I love her right back. I will always be in her debt for what she has done for me and brought to my life. This is the story of the boy who lived and his dog!