Service dog comforts Wyoming lawmaker with PTSD

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CASPER, Wyo. (AP) - Like many at the Wyoming Capitol, LeRoy got sick during week three of the four-week budget session.

Blame it on the 12-hour days, the stress of being away from home, or not enough play time. He came down with an eye infection, followed by an ear infection. It took a toll on his energy. LeRoy needed eye and ear drops.

“By Monday morning, he was back to his normal self, tail wagging,” said his owner, Rep. Stephen Watt, R-Rock Springs.

LeRoy is an 80-pound liver brown bloodhound. He served in the 62nd Wyoming Legislature as a service dog to Watt, who suffers from anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.

LeRoy, who will turn 3 in July, is believed to be the first service dog in the Legislature, although no one keeps historical records on such details. House Speaker Tom Lubnau, R-Gillette, gave Watt permission to have LeRoy in the House chamber and in committee meetings.

“It’s the first time I’ve seen it in my 10 years, other than the bomb dogs that come through every morning,” Lubnau said.

Watt was shot five times nearly 32 years ago while working as a Wyoming Highway Patrol trooper. He got LeRoy almost a year ago.

Rep. Watt is a true hero and has had some interesting and difficult burdens of life thrust upon him,” Lubnau said. “Anything we can do to make his life easier, I’m glad to do.”

- ‘He knows’

Watt initially adopted LeRoy from a bloodhound rescue to help with physical challenges from his injuries. LeRoy can wear a special harness to pull Watt’s wheelchair, which the lawmaker occasionally uses when the pain is especially excruciating. Watt is training LeRoy to use his paw to hit handicapped switches that automatically open doors. LeRoy is learning to fetch things off the floor, such as keys.

“I have a bullet in my spine and it’s getting harder and harder for me to bend over and pick things up,” Watt said.

It wasn’t until later that Watt realized LeRoy was helping him psychologically, too.

One day, Watt was shopping at a grocery store. LeRoy, as usual, was on a leash, walking in tandem with Watt’s left knee. Suddenly, LeRoy stopped walking and turned around, Watt said.

Since LeRoy is strong, his force turned Watt around, too. Watt set them straight and continued walking. But the pooch turned them around again, he said.

“The fourth time he did that, I all of a sudden could picture in my brain a hand or something trying to flip that switch to have a flashback,” Watt said. “And I thought, ‘Holy cow, he knows.’ He distracts me by doing something, taking my mind off it. Since then, he’s made me more aware of when I’m going to have a flashback.”

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