It was the big day, graduation day. A room at the Wilmington Convention Center in North Carolina was bustling with 400 to 500 people. Shortly after the ceremony began, a pre-recorded video played a short emotional interview with Army veteran John Ready. He introduced himself and his newly permanent service dog, MEMPHIS. John happily walked up to the stage to get his majestic golden retriever red- vested– the official seal of service dog certification by the paws4vets nonprofit organization.
Kentucky native John Ready is one of thousands of soldiers who sacrificed much in military service and war to defend our freedom. Life is nothing short of difficult for a veteran diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. After his 2005 tour in Iraq, PTSD ripped apart John’s ability to process emotions, sleep through the night, and function in society as well as relationships. His mental illness was the ultimate culprit for the separation with his wife of eight years.
“There were a lot of things I knew about myself that I wasn’t really happy about” said John.
Well, things were about to get real. Ten years after an Iraq tour, paws4vets accepted John into its service dog program. Paws 4 Vets is one of several programs managed under the paws4people foundation. The founders, trainers and peers challenged John to face his fears and realities of his debilitating mental illness. In the span of eight months, John drove from Ohio to West Virginia and North Carolina to embark on a process of healing with the help of a dog, named MEMPHIS, and his team of dog trainers.
Dogs of paws4vets begin their five-stage training program just a few days after they are born according to the organization’s website. MEMPHIS is one of the 200 service dogs that have been placed with veteran clients nationwide. These special dogs learn hundreds of commands, which will help their future owners live better lives.
“This program is seriously the most rewarding that thing I’ve been a part of,” said Sara Stelma, one of MEMPHIS’ trainers. “When John and MEMPHIS graduated, my heart felt like it was about to explode with pride.”
Not only does it take courage to suit up and volunteer to go to war, but it takes an equal amount of courage to face the ugly mess war leaves behind in the crevices of the psyche. John admits that he had to “grow up and be honest” with himself. The most difficult part of getting real with himself was admitting and accepting how much help and support he needed from people to overcome what seemed like an insurmountable mental illness.
John described what he learned about himself during the paws4vets process.
“With a little bit of help . . . ,” he says, then starts over. “With a lot of help from Memphis, I’m able to do menial tasks that I would never attempt before or begrudgingly attempt.”
A trip to the grocery store is one of many tasks John is now able to accomplish with more ease. MEMPHIS is also helping rebuild John’s deteriorated relationships with his loved ones. He is now less irritable and not as quick to get angry or frustrated.
“Not only was I witnessing another successful graduation, it meant that I had helped another person help themselves in dealing with a limiting factor,” said Sara. “It meant that his family would have less stress from living with that disability.”
A broken Army veteran, father, husband, son and brother is now on the mend, thanks to an amazing happy-go-lucky golden retriever named MEMPHIS.