Shy, 47, considers himself lucky. He found the Wounded Warrior Project and was able to receive some nontraditional therapies, in addition to traditional counseling and pharmaceuticals.
It was through the Wounded Warrior Project's intervention that he became aware of the Train a Dog Save a Warrior program.
The program pairs a veteran with a dog as a team. The program differs from traditional service-dog programs in that the veteran and the animal train together. The goal is for the pair to form a strong and lasting bond. The program is not breed-specific. Instead, an attempt is made to match the dog to the personality and interests of the veteran.
Bart Sherwood heads the program from San Antonio. "We look for dogs that are not aggressive with other dogs, people, food, or even overly friendly aggression," Sherwood said. "If the vet already has a dog, we will work to train them together. If not, we'll help pair them up."
Sherwood also said they try to make things as convenient for the veteran as possible by engaging local certified trainers to work with the team.
Shy was paired with Mary Ann Kiser, in Birch River. When he was accepted into the program, Shy did not have a dog. He said his only requirement was "a dog who loves the outdoors as much as I do."
Usually, the process of finding a dog takes several weeks of evaluating potential candidates. But kismet intervened when Kiser heard of a 1-year-old Newfoundland/Labrador mix puppy on its way to a shelter. She evaluated the dog, called Shy, and told him she thought she had found a match.
She was right. After meeting the dog and some additional evaluation as a pair, Shy named the shaggy black dog Sasquatch, and the two began bonding immediately.
The process of training a team can take anywhere from 15 to 28 weeks. Shy and Sasquatch are approaching the end of their training process. They meet with Kiser two to three times a week, and train at home as part of their daily activity.
Sasquatch provides Shy not only with the companionship and comfort of a pet, but he also is being taught to sense when Shy is in danger of succumbing to the symptoms of PTSD. Sasquatch will lean against Shy, offering him comfort and distraction, allowing Shy to refocus and avert the paralyzing fear of an attack.
In addition to sensing an impending crisis, Sasquatch also will wake Shy in the night if he begins to have one of the nightmares that have plagued his sleep. Shy said this allows him to wake up before he is in the grip of the dream. He can wake up, shake off the experience and go back to a restful sleep quickly.
After the team passes the Public Access Temperament Test, Sasquatch will be a Service Dog as defined by the Americans With Disabilities Act and will be allowed to accompany Shy everywhere he goes.
So, in a way, Shy and Sasquatch have saved each other.
Reach Autumn D.F. Hopkins at autumn.hopk...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1249.