by Robert Paul Hudson
Gander is a service dog for Lon B Hodge, a veteran who suffers from PTSD. They are each half of a whole that together is bigger than themselves. They complete each other. The role of a service dog for veterans cannot be defined by a few simple words.
“I think that Gander and I were fated to meet. I think he was a Tibetan Lama in a past life who decided to hang around this world wagging, kissing and loving me into a better understanding of compassion and unconditional love. A dog in your life is a blessing you can cherish forever if you have reasonable expectations and a commitment to loving and caring for a new member of your family.
When I read the following on Lon’s blog Veteran traveler, I better understood that their relationship is a two way street: “One of the tasks Gander was taught to perform was to flank me on the side open to height to give me some distance and comfort. What happened was he became so tuned to my emotional state that he began to avoid heights himself. My wife says I have given my dog PTSD. I did make him more cautious of open spaces. Is he failing me? Should I be angry or disappointed? No. I now walk down the center of bridges so we both feel more comfortable. I don’t take elevators with glass floors. The scope of his aid to me goes far beyond these simple things. We will work on them together as a team. My guess? As I heal and become less anxious, so will he. He will be a living barometer of my progress. We have important things to do. And I am not about to stress my best friend needlessly as we romp though these rough trails together.”
Gander has evoked powerful emotions from others around him as well according to Lon. …
“there was the 6’2″ muscular and intimidating retired SEAL who, two weeks ago, barreled through the lobby of the complex where I live. He had been drinking and his face told me he was mentally far away and not happy about what he had found there. Gander uncharacteristically went against his training and headed straight for the man and leaned all 65 pounds against his shins. The tension drained from his face, his voice became scratchy as he gently stroked Gander and spoke with a powerful gentleness about his canine companion of 14 years that he had just freed from the pains of age and infirmity. He went on to talk about his fears about an upcoming trip overseas and the panic attacks he was having and how he now knew what invisible wounds and suffering were and wondered out loud why more victims didn’t kill themselves. And wished his “battle buddy” was still here to help him through this.
If Gander can do this with total stranger, imagine what he does for me.”
When I first approached Lon about coming on the Pet Radio Show, it was with the expectation of talking about the mechanics of how a service dog aids a veteran and how the dog provides physical and emotional aid, but what I did not expect was to read from Lon’s blog how profound the relationship really is.
Gander and Lon will be on the Pet Radio Show May 11, 2013. I will ask Lon about the mechanics of a service dog for vets, the long training program they both went through, and how they were matched together, but I suspect people listening will take away something much deeper than just that.