- Associated Press - Sunday, October 26, 2014

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) - He understood danger. Knew its responsibilities and rhythms. Live long enough beside it, and danger becomes routine in a soldier’s world.

It was the mundane that spooked Ron Flaville. He might panic if a Walmart aisle got too crowded. Or he could freak out in a restaurant with too many windows.

Therapy didn’t help. Booze and meds were not the answer. Medically retired from the Army, Flaville found it easier to simply stay locked in the house. This was his universe before salvation arrived with its wagging tail.

“That dog saved my life,” Flaville said. “She really did.”

Flaville is the prize pupil for a Brooksville organization known as Partners for Patriots. Conceived by Mary Peter, the nonprofit provides free dog training, and often the dogs, for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury.

The animals are trained to redirect a veteran’s focus when they sense the anxiety or agitation common in those who suffer from PTSD.

For Flaville, 37, that means Sophia, an 18-month-old black shepherd, alerts him before strangers get too close. She puts her front paws on his shoulders and her face in front of his when she senses his distress. She climbs into bed and wakes him from the nightmares that gripped his sleep and terrified his wife, Kellie, sleeping beside him.

In essence, Sophia has replaced the soldiers who stood by Flaville’s side during two deployments in Iraq.

“It’s hard to explain how different he’s become with Sophia,” Kellie said. “Simple things like going to the grocery store used to turn into a scene because he would get anxious, and his heart rate would accelerate. He could get dizzy and pass out, or he could run out of the store to get away from everybody.

“He’s a whole lot more pleasant now. Relaxed. Not as high-maintenance. I would have never imagined it could have worked out this well.”

It was Kellie who suggested Ron get Sophia trained after spotting a sign for the Stillwater Dog Training business Peter has run for years. Ron bought Sophia for Kellie as an anniversary present, but it was clear the dog and soldier were the ones who had bonded after long hours together in the house.

Peter, who has trained service dogs for a variety of purposes, immediately intuited the potential of dogs helping PTSD cases. After training Flaville and Sophia, she began putting together the Partners for Patriots idea.

Peter provides everything for free, but has certain criteria for a veteran to qualify. She also insists the veteran takes part in the dog’s training.

“I will not train a dog and just give it to a vet. Any program can do that,” Peter said. “Our therapy is we get the veterans involved in the training from day one. It gives them a sense of pride, it gives them a sense of responsibility.”

What it has given Flaville is a chance for a normal life. Disabled by a neck injury and bad knees, his greatest wounds go largely unseen.

He has memorial tattoos of four of his fallen friends, and says he needs to add a half-dozen more. The transition from warrior to civilian remains a work in progress.

“I still have some anxiety attacks, but she pulls me out of them. She’ll rub her muzzle on my leg or paws at me or, if she has to, she barks,” Flaville said. “She pulls my focus off everything making me uncomfortable, and puts it on her.

“She keeps me sane.”

___

Information from: Tampa Bay Times (St. Petersburg, Fla.), http://www.tampabay.com.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide