My name is T.J. Stewart. I’m a United States Marine Corps combat veteran. I was discharged honorably with a 100% disability rating. I suffered multiple traumatic closed head injuries. I suffer with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, night terrors and other mental, psychological and physical disabilities. All sustained while on active duty overseas.
I am active in my recovery through mental health groups, therapy and volunteering through the Veterans Hospital. One of my programs is based on veterans volunteering in the community to help us reintegrate into society.
We had the privilege to work with ADSW service dogs in training through a program called Forward Flag. Once a week, the trainers; Jody and Chloe. Would assist us on proper handling, care and specific cues with the dogs. We could usual pick the dog We chose to work with that day. I tended to work with any and all the dogs and loved seeing how each one had such a unique personality and and how they negotiated this world.
And then there was Lucy! In all the months of training all the dogs, Lucy was never one of them that we ever saw or worked with. For some reason or another. On one of our Monday training groups. All of us vets were waiting outside for the big white van overflowing with excited, ready to work dogs. The doors flung open and the dogs scrambled out to do they’re business and This short legged, stalky, melty faced golden girl made a beeline towards me and playfully circled me, begging for my attention and she got it! She then took off to play with all the other dogs, but continually came to check in with me. I didn’t think to much into it but asked to work with her that day. I continued to ask to be paired with her for every training opportunity. She loved working and continually checked in with me almost like she was happy to please me. Lucy did and still does think for herself and is a very strong willed lady. I love that about her. She is not a robot At All.
I was completely unaware that Chloe and Jody were watching us closely for months. I was approached by the ladies and even my therapist about how I would feel about going through the rest of the more intensive training process, in order to be placed with Lucy. It completely took me off guard.
I had been told that there was a very lengthy waiting period for such a privilege. The ladies sat me down and informed me of the process, requirements and obligations and life long commitments. I took some time and processed all of the new information. I decided quickly too commit to the process and it shifted gears from a volunteer to a potential handler. I have always heard that a dog picks his or her handler. I didn’t fully understand that until Chloe told me one day that Lucy was one of the more challenging dogs in the program and has had difficulty being placed. That’s when she confided in me about how her and the other trainers had been watching us as a unit and how Lucy’s behavior and skill set was in full effect when working with and for me. I would be willing to take an oath about my disbelief that she had troubles being placed. I worked with many of the dogs in the program and have had the privilege of owning 4 dogs throughout my life that changed my life for the better. However, I can only now, full heartedly attest to the difference in a good pet and a great service dog.
Lucy has changed my life. People misuse that sentence as often as I have. Bet I can tell you. When I’m afraid, she’s never closer. When I’m confused and disoriented, she’s makes me pause and bring me back to the now. When I’m sad, her head is on my lap and staring up at me. When I suddenly awake yelling from night terrors, she is not afraid of me. When all I can do is pace back and forth holding my neck, she paces with me. If I am happy, she prolongs the moment. When I am aggravated, she is patiently waiting. Lucy is with me through it all and then some. She has talked me down from some of the most terrible thoughts and poor decisions I’ve contemplated for many years.
This part of her relationship with me may be too uncomfortable for the program to print but is the most important job she preforms for me. I struggle with faces from my military career that haunt me at random times that provoke suicidal thoughts and ideations. At these times she is all I have. And that’s enough for me.
I am so fortunate and humbled to have her in my life and I wish I could repay ADSW and all of the staffs entirety. From the donors, receptionist to the trainers and all of the behind the scene faces that are never acknowledged.
I hope it helps to justify all y’alls contributions and unseen dedications to know that you’ve raised, trained and molded a service dog that took years to accomplish, save one Veterans life.
TJ n Lucy girl