…Kyal’s dreams devolve into nightmares. The details of each one is different, but the theme is always the same: blood, pain, gore and violence…all the fear and fright you’d expect from a veteran with post-traumatic stress who’s served in a theater of war.
Just as the pain and fear threaten to overwhelm him, he feels a tiny, gentle lick on the end of his nose. If that strange sensation, amidst the violence, doesn’t bring him out of his nightmare then he’ll feel a second little lick.
Most times, that lick is right on target, at the end of his nose. But, sometimes, they’re off-center and he’ll get a swipe of a tongue across his closed eyelid or a slurp that’ll end up in his hair.
That’s when Kyal opens his eyes and steps out of the violence into a moment of comfort and safety staring into the eyes of Major, his post-traumatic stress [PTSD] service dog.
In that moment, there’s no longer any need for fear and pain. There’s just Kyal and Major…eye to eye, nose to nose…supporting each other in the moment.
From the beginning, Major was a standout in this Wyoming litter of pups. He was lighter colored, almost white, than the others and had a tiny dark spot on the left side of his nose.
They grew as happy, healthy and round little animals, doing the sorts of things…and making all the messes…that puppies do.
At weaning time, as it does for all service animal prospects, their personalities were evaluated and three, including Major, were selected and their training began. In a freak accident, Major was injured and the volunteer efforts of a local veterinarian put him on the road to recovery. Once again, his personality was evaluated and there were no lingering psychological effects. He worked his way through service dog training with flying colors and his winning personality.
After all, Major was a young dog that had places to go and a job to do.
Major was just short of two years old when his call came to serve Mickey, a struggling Vietnam veteran.
The two hit it off and Mickey’s 50-year-old ghosts loosened their grip on his heart and mind. Once again, he smiled. And, best of all, he could go out in public and enjoy his family.
Then one evening, five months later, Mickey opened his front door to step outside. And that’s where he took his final breath. Only Major knows exactly what happened next as his person suddenly and unexpectedly passed away.
The following morning, Mickey’s worried daughter found her deceased father covered with light colored dog hair as Major hovered over him. She figures he must have spent the night, tirelessly, trying to revive her father.
She said, “I think my father died happier than he’d been in a long time because his buddy was with him to the end.”
In most cases, where the veteran passes before his service dog, the family is offered the animal because of the strong bonds that are built between them. This time, because Major was barely over two years old, Mickey’s daughter requested the dog be given an opportunity to help someone else the way he’d given her father hope.
And that’s when Kyal got the phone call…and Major stepped in with tiny nose licks…to bridge the gap in his life.
One of Kyal’s most outstanding traits is his voice. He could probably pitch it to be heard in just about any combat situation. But that doesn’t mean he’s comfortable talking in public.
Kyal and Major, attended Mickey’s funeral. They’d never met, neither veteran knew the other.
He got up in front of the crowd and explained who he was and how grateful he was that Major had come into his life…not because of Mickey’s death…but because his family decided to pass along the healing to another veteran who was having a tough time.
He finished his brief speech by saying…”I’m here today to support Mickey and his family, because through Major, I feel like I’m part of that family.”
The crowd yelled and applauded, shouting, “You are!”
During the whole time, Major quietly watched Kyal as he returned to his chair.
These days Kyal and Major are a team as they move around their Oregon home. He still has tough days, but his PTSD symptoms have been reduced to about 25% of what they were before Major came into his life.
When those hard days return, both Kyal and Major look forward to their moment of comfort.
Editor’s Note: This is one story in an upcoming e-book, “Hugging a Dog’s Head”. If you’d like to be notified in advance, please leave your email address here, it will not be sold, bartered or bargained to anyone for any reason.