I grasped a dog treat in my hand, as I looked at my new service dog, a black lab. “Cover,” I demanded. Instead of turning his body around to perform the command, Dell’s ears perked up. His attention was no longer focused on me. I could hear the sound of laughter echoing throughout the park where we were training. Dell and I walked off course, away from the other warriors, dogs, and trainers to take a timeout. Frustrated, I thought to myself, “What am I doing here?” I told Dell to “Heel.” He and I began hiking back to rejoin the group.

I remember the way the sun felt; its intense heat beating down on the top of my shoulders. Each step we took felt a mile long. Exhausted, I was afraid to look up. I stared fiercely at the freshly cut grass, dew drops sparkling on the tips of each green blade. Suddenly, Dell jumped up with excitement. He wanted to play. A large group of frolicking children ran swiftly past us. A shot of adrenaline rushed through my body. My heart started pounding. “Something terrible is happening,” I thought. The smell of something burning engulfed my nostrils. The hypothetical part of my brain told me it was a family grilling on a summer day; All of a sudden, smoke soaked into my skin — covering every cell of my body.

The serene park scene melted away as memories of combat began to flood my mind. I felt my boots kick up desert sand and the sound of artillery ringing in my ears. “What are those kids running from?” There must be an attack. I began pacing quickly toward the area where they were hiding. During my time in the Army, I was required to barge into extreme situations, not run from them. I assessed the landscape, scanning for any possible threats. The path I was on must be riddled with IEDs. I couldn’t breathe. I was drenched in sweat. Then, I felt the force of something near my side. I reached down. It was warm and soft. It was a dog. “Dell!” I returned to the park. The children were just playing hide-and-seek. I squatted down to get on Dells’ level and looked into his eyes. He gazed back at me as he began to yelp. He knew something was wrong. He could sense that I had a panic attack.

At that moment, everything became clear. Something clicked. I grabbed Dell, pulling him closer to me as a soothing feeling of comfort cleansed me. I took a deep breath; my lungs were lighter. I stood up proud and tall. Dell looked up at me. “Cover,” I said assertively. He stepped into stride, quickly turned around, and sat down in a firm, noble position. He had my back. At that point, I knew my life was changed for the better.

Dell and I have been together for over a year now. He has helped me in ways I didn’t know were possible. There is so much I want to do, and with Dell by my side, I believe I can do all of those things. Currently, we are attending law school and interning at K9s For Warriors. Dell gave me a new leash on life.

September is Service Dog Awareness month. Want to learn more about K9s FOR WARRIORS?

Visit k9sforwarriors.org