Pet tales: Service dog a lifesaver for veteran with PTSD




A recent trip to the Heinz History Center was especially poignant for David Hoover of New Castle and his chocolate Labrador retriever, Lambert. To celebrate their graduation as a Misty Pines Certified Service Dog Team, they went to see the exhibit "1968: The Year That Rocked America."

Mr. Hoover's world was certainly rocked in 1968.

"The day that changed my life was Aug 3, 1968, at Contien, Quang Tri Provence, Vietnam. ... I was a Marine with Headquarter Company, 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Division," he said.

On the first day of his second tour of duty in Vietnam, a helicopter dropped him off at a base under heavy mortar attack. When his bunker took a direct hit, he was buried for hours under sand bags and large wooden debris. He thought he was dead.

After his fellow Marines dug him out, the base doctor "told me I had a broken thigh and would be choppered out in a short time. The broken leg was not the only damage done that day."

The leg healed, but Mr. Hoover, who left the Marines as a sergeant, was a changed man when he returned home.

"I would isolate myself, not want to be around anyone," he said.

Other times he would rant and become enraged with no apparent provocation.

"I did a lot of drinking, then I became a workaholic. As the years went by, I was angry at everyone. ... Why my wife stayed with me I'll never know."

It took 32 years to get a diagnosis: post-traumatic stress disorder. Therapy and medication helped, but "they were just not enough. I needed something else."

The answer for Mr. Hoover was a service dog. His first dog was Granite, a chocolate Lab. In 2010, when Granite became too old to work, Mr. Hoover got a puppy that he named for one of his favorite Pittsburgh Steelers. When Lambert was 12 weeks old, he and Mr. Hoover started training with Jeff Woods, owner and president of Misty Pines Dog Park Co.

Mr. Woods has trained 10 service dogs, including some teamed with children with autism. Lambert passed tests for Canine Good Citizen, Therapy Dogs International and Misty Pines Service Dog. On March 18, the dog and his partner received a plaque and a trip to the Heinz History Center with Mr. Woods and Mr. Hoover's wife, Jane.

Mr. Hoover and Lambert posed with their plaque in front of a Bell UH-1H "Huey" helicopter, the same kind of aircraft that took Mr. Hoover to and from the Vietnam battlefield where he was wounded.

Here's what Mr. Hoover wrote about his service dog:

"Lambert is with me 24/7. He keeps me calm and more focused. I don't isolate myself from people now. When I am out with Lambert, people focus on him rather than me. He makes me aware that I may be headed into an angry rage. ... I can say for certain that without Lambert I would be either hiding in a hole somewhere or in jail. I'd have no life at all."

Lambert has served in ways no would could have predicted. Mr. Hoover thinks Lambert has twice saved his life.

"One afternoon while driving home from Pittsburgh on I-79, Lambert started nudging me from the back seat. This made me aware that I was falling asleep and going on and off the road," Mr. Hoover said.

A week before Christmas, Mr. Hoover was hit with abdominal cramps that left him helpless on the floor, doubled over in pain. When Lambert licked his face, Mr. Hoover yelled, "Lambert! Go fetch phone." Lambert brought the telephone, and Mr. Hoover called his wife for help.

Lambert stayed by his partner's side until Mrs. Hoover drove into the driveway. Lambert ran to the front door and led Mrs. Hoover to Mr. Hoover, who was diagnosed at a hospital with an obstructed bowel. He has made a complete recovery.

"There are two reasons that I function better in life now -- my love for my wife, Jane, and the support and assistance of Granite and Lambert. Knowing that he guards my life with such a deep love will enable me to live my life happily for years to come," Mr. Hoover said.

Granite is living a happy retirement with the Hoovers. When Lambert isn't working, the two dogs frolic and play "like brothers."

Many people are not familiar with service dogs that help wounded warriors with PTSD. Luis Carlos Montalvan of New York City, highly decorated for 17 years of service in the Army, said he sometimes has trouble convincing employees at restaurants and other venues to allow him to enter with his service dog, Tuesday.

Mr. Montalvan has PTSD and a traumatic brain injury from service in Iraq. Some people seem to think that if you're not blind, you have no right or need to have a dog that goes everywhere with you. The Americans With Disabilities Act requires full access for service dogs. When dogs wear vests that identify them as service and assistance dogs, no one should talk to them, pet them or interfere with them in any way.

In speaking appearances and his best-selling book, "Until Tuesday," Mr. Montalvan advocates for better treatment and services -- including dogs like Tuesday and Lambert -- for veterans. The letters on Lambert's blue vest read "PTSD Dog."

Dog park opening

After two years of hard work by a small group of volunteers, the Bellevue Dog Woods has its grand opening today, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The event includes vendors, raffles, door prizes, free "ask the trainer" advice, "Paw-dicures" by Larry's Laundromutt and a low-cost microchip clinic sponsored by Animal Rescue League.

The fenced off-leash park, which includes a shallow pond with a fountain, is in Bellevue Memorial Park on Bellevue Road (15202). The land is owned by Bellevue Borough but located in Ross. Volunteers raised $20,000 for the project, and there were many donations of supplies and construction equipment.

Non-residents are welcome in this park, but there are rules that have raised some eyebrows: No children under 12, no intact (un-neutered) dogs, and no food, dog treats or dog toys. However, for the grand opening, children can attend the festivities outside the dog park, where all dogs must be leashed.

All of the rules were decided for safety reasons, said Connie Rankin, one of the leaders in the dog-park-building effort. She said small children may be knocked down by running dogs, and dogs can get into fights over food and toys.

Pet Tales appears weekly in the Saturday Home & Garden section. Linda Wilson Fuoco: lfuoco@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3064. Got a pet health question? Email it to petpoints@post-gazette.com. It may be answered in an upcoming Pet Points column by veterinarians at the Point Breeze Veterinary Clinic. First Published May 4, 2013 4:00 AM




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