Dogs Make the Difference: Service Dogs & Student Veterans
Seattle Pup Magazine, founder Tracy Stober sat down with the University of Washington assistant director of Student Veterans Life, Lindsay Church the other day to chat about her service dog, Call Sign Charlie, and the importance of service dogs when it comes to veterans reintegrating into civilian society and navigating the outcomes of post-traumatic stress.
Lindsay currently works for the University of Washington as the director of Student Veterans Life. Her office serves as a meeting place and information hub and sanctuary for returning student veterans who navigating their return to the states. Reintegration is stressful and at times it can be traumatic. The UW Student Veterans Life works to provide services vets may need during their time as students. This includes having a mental health counselor on call at all times. The University of Washington is the only university in the state at this time to offer this service and one of very few student veteran organizations in the nation to provide mental health services. There are over 1,000 student veterans currently enrolled at the University of Washington.
Service dogs are essential to helping military veterans with post traumatic stress and other injuries recover. “I bring Charlie everywhere I go and when she is here students make a point to come and visit.” Lindsay takes Charlie with her everywhere she goes. Students make a point to come by her office when she is in. They volunteer to take Charlie out on runs and walks when Lindsay cannot.
Lindsay went on to explain that before she had Call Sign Charlie, Emo was her service dog. Emo, who is 12 and retired, lives at home with Charlie and Lindsay. Lindsay stumbled upon her dog’s abilities when she returned home after having been injured. Suffering in recovery from several surgeries, Lindsay returned home with severe post-traumatic stress. She was hospitalized for 55 days and had seven surgeries on her chest alone. As she explained, “everything that could go wrong, went wrong.”
"Having Emo with me made it possible for me to function.”
Emo had been Lindsay’s dog before she served in the military. When she came home her dog became her “rock.” “She would not leave my side no matter what. Even during my worst days, she knew something was wrong and that I was traumatized. She insisted on being there to help me.” Emo instinctively created a boundary, a bubble, around Lindsay after she returned from surgery. She would stay close to Lindsay and bump up against her back leg to let her know when there were people behind her. Having been disabled by her injuries, Lindsay trained Emo to open doors for her and push elevator buttons. But most of all Emo provided stabilization and grounding to Lindsay when she had to venture outside. “Having had such injuries and problems with my recovery, literally every single doctor’s visit would trigger me. Having Emo with me made it possible for me to function.”
When Lindsay returned from her tour she was in recovery in California for several months. “It was then that I knew how much dogs meant to my recovery. I would have killed myself if it were not for the dogs. Those dogs saved my life. Whenever the comfort [therapy] dogs were at the hospital I insisted they visit me. I have a collage of pictures of those dogs with myself. All those different dogs helped me through it.”
There was one dog by the name of Tommy who worked in the critical care unit with other service members, many of whom had lost limbs. Tommy was one of the many dogs who helped Lindsay recover, and who inspired Lindsay to allow UW student vets to interact with Call Sign Charlie. “Dogs help with the transition of vets into civilian life. It is one of the easiest ways to integrate back into society.”
“It [Dawgs off-Leash] is a great way to bridge the gap between civilians and returning veterans.”
Another dog by the name of Scout helped Lindsay during some of her worst days. When in recovery in San Francisco, Lindsay met Scout. One of the women working at the hospital was blind and Scout was her guide dog. “She would let me come into her office and I would sit down. She would close the door and take Scout out of his uniform and take off his leash and let him love on me.” Scout’s owner understood how necessary it was to encourage connections among civilians and veterans and invited the blind community to join a “Guide Dogs Off-Leash” event at the hospital. Everyone went out to the volleyball court, shut the gates, and took all of the guide dogs off their leashes for a few hours. What resulted was a flurry of happiness which lasted for days.
This experience was Lindsay’s inspiration for an event “DAWGS off-leash” an event during the first week of school each fall. Dogs from around the University of Washington who are normally working (i.e. UW Police K-9 unit and College Dogs [Therapy Dog organization]) were let loose to interact with students, faculty, and veterans. “It is a great way to bridge the gap between civilians and returning veterans.”
Service dogs are essential members of our community. They provide not only a means to navigate but also comfort, companionship and connection.
If you or someone you know is a veteran in need of help, please contact the Veterans Crisis Line. Veterans, service members, or their families can call 1-800-273-8255 and press 1. You can also text 838255 or chat by visiting www.veteranscrisisline.net.
The Veterans Crisis Line is a free, anonymous, confidential resource that’s available to anyone, even if you’re not registered with the VA or enrolled in VA health care. Support for deaf and hard of hearing: 1-800-799-4889
Photos by Brigit Stadler, Life as a Voyager Photography
All photos were taken on the University of Washington Campus/UW War Memorial