Service dog to help Sudden Valley veteran deal with anxiety, PTSD
PHILIP A. DWYER THE BELLINGHAM HERALD
Iraq War veteran Daniel McKenzie of Bellingham plays with his new puppy Pip at Brigadoon Service Dogs on Mission Road east of Bellingham Thursday morning, May 10, 2012. McKenzie is getting the dog to help with his PTSD. McKenzie says the dog will help him de-stress and unwind.
For people who have never served in the military, it's easy to dismiss how often the normal world can sound like a war zone: balloons popping, doors slamming, engines backfiring and helicopters hovering overhead.
But for Sudden Valley resident and veteran Daniel McKenzie, any one of those sounds can bring him back to Iraq.
The 27-year-old Army specialist suffers from anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder from the time he spent in Iraq as a prison guard from 2006 to 2007. That's where Pip comes in.
Pip - short for Pipsqueak because he's so small - is a 16-month-old Jack Russell terrier who is being trained by Brigadoon Service Dogs of Bellingham to calm McKenzie down and bring him into the present when he's flashing back. Pip has been through some initial training at Brigadoon but is taking a four-month break to bond with McKenzie as he goes on a cross-country road trip with his wife, Edie, 41, and 13-year-old son, Joseph.
McKenzie is excited to get to know the little dog that is going to be his new companion.
"He's very full of personality," he said as Pip licked his beard during a visit at Brigadoon, located on Mission Road east of Bellingham. "It's been quite nice so far."
McKenzie had wanted a small service dog so he could bring it with him on his motorcycle. Pip has a pair of dog goggles - doggles - to wear on the bike, and he'll be strapped to McKenzie with a protective harness so McKenzie can bring him everywhere he needs to go.
"I have lots of problems with my PTSD and being in public," he said. "(Pip is) somewhere to refocus my attention so I don't let things overwhelm me."
When he's in large crowds, McKenzie said, he tries to watch everyone, see what they're doing and figure out what they might do next.
"It's very overwhelming to all the senses," he said. "(I'll be) concentrating on him versus trying to watch everybody. It'll make me be able to not be so panicky all the time."
Edie McKenzie said that Pip is going to be a welcome addition to their family and was happy to see that the pup took to her husband the first time they met. Despite taking medication, her husband still has vivid dreams and night sweats and can be reminded of war by common noises at home and in public.
When the family gets back from their trip, Pip will go back into training at Brigadoon to learn how to respond when McKenzie has nightmares or flashbacks.
"It'll be nice knowing that I'm not the one who has to be on guard all the time," Edie McKenzie said. "I'm hoping when we're in a store he won't be so anxious. Hopefully with the dog to help him keep his mind off of it, he won't flash back so often."
Brigadoon founder and executive director Denise Costanten said it's becoming more common for veterans to turn to service dogs for help with anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries.
"They give unconditional love," she said. "The dogs remind them they're stateside again. All they have to do is touch them and that energy between them can make things all right again."
HOW TO HELP
To find out more about Brigadoon Service Dogs or to donate and help sponsor other service dogs, go online to brigadoondogs.org.