Justin Youvan was 20 years old when he enlisted in the US Air Force. In 2002, he was deployed to Saudi Arabia, then deployed again six years later to serve in Kuwait.
Life in a war zone taught Justin the importance of being hyper-vigilant; it was critical for survival. But after his service ended and he came home, that hypervigilance never seemed to go away. At home, at the grocery store, in restaurants, and at the playground with his kids, Justin struggled constantly with anxiety, fear, flashbacks and stress.
In 2009, Justin was officially diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). By this time, his condition had progressed to the point where he was confrontational, distrustful of everything (and everyone), depressed, and suffering from blackouts that caused him to collapse. After receiving medication and counseling, Justin was improving, but something was still missing.
Less than a year earlier, Roxie was a starving, ragged stray pit-bull mix who was found wandering near Adobe Dam in Glendale, Arizona. She had recently given birth, but her puppies were nowhere to be found. After being rescued by two sisters, sweet and friendly Roxie was nursed back to health, spayed, and placed with an organization called Soldier’s Best Friend.
Helping Both Dogs and People
Soldier’s Best Friend is a non-profit organization that rescues dogs from shelters (they frequently work with organizations like the Arizona Humane Society) and trains them as canine therapy animals to assist military veterans with PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury. The dogs are provided to qualifying veterans at no cost.
These specially chosen dogs are trained in an intensive program that involves private and group sessions that can last up to 9 months. Upon graduation, the dogs become either Certified Service Dogs (permitted by law to enter all public places) or Therapeutic Companion Dogs (allowed to accompany their veterans on airplanes and to live in other environments where pets are not usually allowed).
What is Canine Therapy?
Canine therapy works by providing veterans with a trustworthy companion who helps them readjust to civilian life by giving comfort, warmth, and a feeling of safety and security.
These dogs rebuild their veterans’ confidence and self-esteem. For up to 80% of patients, the dogs offer proven relief from panic attacks, depression, nightmares, sleep disturbances, suicidal thoughts, and reclusive behavior. When in crowded areas, these canine companions create a calm, friendly barrier by positioning themselves between their veteran and any person who approaches too closely.
A Perfect Match
On September 9th, 2013, Roxie was introduced to Justin by Linda Rowe, Adoptions Coordinator at Soldier’s Best Friend. When Roxie came bounding out of Linda’s car, Justin wasn’t quite sure what to make of her. She was smaller than he expected, less sturdy, and friendlier. But after Roxie came to live with Justin, his wife Sarah, and their two children, she proved herself to be a worthy adversary for Justin’s demons.
Superstar Roxie completed her training with Justin in just 4 months – half the time it would normally take. She is now by Justin’s side 24 hours a day, accompanying him on flights that he would previously have been unable to take due to anxiety and claustrophobia, curling up at his feet at restaurants, walking calmly at his side at the grocery store, and sleeping next to him at night to ward off nightmares.
In the end, the wounded veteran and the dog with the enormous heart truly rescued each other.
If you would like to learn more about Soldier’s Best Friend and the services they provide for our veterans, please visit www.soldiersbestfriend.org.
Do you have any military friends or family members who have suffered from PTSD and found comfort through a pet or other animal? Please share your story with us in the comments section below!