When SSG. Jim Stanek was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder in early 2009, the treatment options he was given included medication and group therapy. The former made him feel like a zombie, and as for the latter, rehashing war stories with others just wasn’t helping him move on in life. That’s when Stanek and his wife, Lindsey, then a veterinary assistant, considered a service dog.
But there were two small problems: They had neither the tens of thousands of dollars required to purchase one nor the patience for the long waiting lists.
Lindsey’s solution was to rescue a shelter dog for Jim, which ended up opening a whole new chapter in the veteran’s life and was the beginning of what would soon be their nonprofit, Paws and Stripes—an organization that pairs up rescue dogs with military veterans that have PTSD and traumatic brain injury.
“It was surprising and awesome all at the same time,” Lindsey told Townhall, recalling Jim’s transformation with his new four-legged friend by his side. “He came home from his first session and he was excited about taking me to Walmart so he could show me the things he and Sarge were learning, which was very odd because he was very isolated and didn’t want to go do things; he didn’t really want to be out in public any more than he had to and he just started blossoming and really becoming more involved and happier; he was able to do more and was able to be a better version of himself.”
Canines aren't a cure for PTSD, of course, but Sarge and other service dogs can be trained to help veterans suffering from anxiety, depression, flashbacks, and night terrors. However, it's the emotional support and unconditional love the furry companions provide that's perhaps the greatest way they help veterans move on with their lives.
"We as individuals, we take a lot of things for granted." Jim explained. "Whether it’s going out to dinner, going to a baseball game with your kids, [or] getting involved with the family ... it’s very difficult for a veteran dealing with PTSD and a brain injury to partake in that stuff because we want to isolate, we don’t want to socialize."
"[But] now you’ve got your battle buddy with you, your service dog that gets to run with you everywhere you go," he continued, "and get you back in and live the life you deserve to live."
While the Staneks admit the program can be challenging and intense for all involved, in the end, it’s well worth it for the veteran, the dog, and the family.
“There was one of our graduates whose wife came up to us at graduation with tears in her eyes, you know, thanking us for bringing back her husband,” Jim said. “And that’s the same woman who … during training she came into the office and was crying … [because they] went to dinner for the first time in years and his eyes were on her completely the entire evening because of that dog.”
More than 50 service dog teams have graduated from Paws and Stripes so far, and through A&E’s new series, “Dogs of War,” which premiers tonight at 10/9c, America will be able to watch the incredible journey of some of the pairs as they go through the nine-to-12-month training program.
The goals of the show are simple, the Staneks said: Raise more awareness about PTSD and showcase the incredible work the dogs do.
“These dogs are just absolutely amazing creatures and when trained, and when given that task of to help, veterans can achieve anything,” Jim said. “I think just because we are technically out of the fight we still have a lot of fight in us and I gotta get up every morning and fight my disability because I will not let it control me. I hope veterans across the country that are suffering can see that and not allow their disability to take them over and to fight those disabilities and live the life that they deserve.”