Service dog helps with PTSD

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 12, 2014


A local woman’s “guardian angel” has presented itself as a four-legged, hairy dog.

Andalusia resident and Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran Kristin Taylor recently was officially partnered with her service dog, Dakota.

Dakota has helped Taylor cope with a debilitating form of combat-related PTSD resulting from her deployment in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Taylor advanced to the rank of specialist, serving as a radio-telephone operator for the battalion’s tactical operation center. She contributed to more than 125 sustainment replenishment operations, and was commended for her exceptional service.

“I got out in 2010, and was swiftly diagnosed with 100 percent combat-related PTSD,” Taylor said. “I have attended six different PTSD programs in five states.”

Taylor said she isolated herself and substance abuse became a way to cope.

“Before Dakota, I couldn’t leave my house for weeks at a time,” Taylor said. “He’s changed my life. He wakes me up from nightmares, he brings me out of flashbacks, and he can sense whenever I start to get nervous or anxious.

“He actually prevents me from getting panic attacks, because he senses it,” she said.

Through the help of Dakota, Taylor has overcome contemplating suicide and taking 18 medications. She now takes just a few medications and says she manages out in public.

“The first time I went to a public restaurant with Dakota I sat with my back to the door,” Taylor said. “This is the first time I had done even that since I got back. I didn’t notice until my mom pointed it out to me.

“He shields me when I’m in public,” she said. “He’ll sit and lean against me to shield me from people. He was trained for my specific needs.”

It took two years for Taylor to get Dakota, and she said she had almost given up on getting a service dog when she received a call from the founder and executive director of Guardian Angels Medical Service Dogs, Carol Borden.

“The VA (Veterans Affairs) stopped their service dog program, and these wonderful people are out there helping veterans,” Taylor said. “It’s amazing what they’re doing.”

Guardian Angels is a nationally recognized non-profit organization that specializes in training and pairing dogs with people suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and other disabilities.

Taylor and Dakota participated in an official “passing of the leash” ceremony this past weekend.

“This is an acknowledgement of a major milestone in the lives of the recipients, as they have been given their independence and dignity back through their service dog,” Borden said during the leash ceremony. “They are now able to integrate back into society and not worry about their disability or need for a caregiver.”

The service dogs at Guardian Angels are given 500 to 1,500 hours of custom training to fit the specific needs and challenges of their recipients.

PTSD dogs help their handlers by:

• helping adjust their handlers’ serotonin levels;

• lowering blood pressure;

• getting their handlers through episodes of depression or anxiety;

• effectively calming their handlers; and

• preventing people from crowding around or rushing their handlers.

“I chose Dakota, but he chose me, too,” Taylor said. “Dakota is truly my guardian angel, and I don’t know what I would do without him. I can now attend festivals, parades, support groups and go shopping without the overwhelming feeling that I’m going to be attacked.”

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