Service Dogs: Living a Fuller Life with SSD Outback

Dec 2, 2014 8:00 AM ET

Living a Fuller Life with SSD Outback

Guest post by Roger Hostetter, a US Army Gulf War Veteran partnered with SSD Outback

First, I would like to thank Keystone Human Services and Susquehanna Service Dogs for this wonderful program.

I am a US Army Gulf War Veteran with PTSD and other medical issues from my service in the Gulf. I received an Honorable Discharge from the Army in 1991, and I spent the next 17 years going from one mental health doctor to another. I forget how many I actually saw before being able to have the ones that I currently have.

In 2008, I saw a doctor who, within one appointment, diagnosed me with PTSD.  I believe it was two appointments after this that he told me he was leaving and had talked to the doctor that I currently see. I was afraid I would have to basically start all over again, but this doctor picked right up where the other one left off.

A few years after this, I heard about veterans receiving service dogs to help with PTSD. I spoke to my doctor about this and he said he felt it would be something good for me to look into, but that he couldn’t help much since the VA doesn’t help veterans receive a service dog.

So my search began. I found so many places out of state. After years of searching, I discovered Susquehanna Service Dogs.

Since they were a local organization I contacted them right away and asked if they have service dogs for veterans with PTSD.

I filled out an application and had the formal interview and was accepted as a client. I was told the wait for a service dog can be anywhere from 18 months to 2yrs. As time passed, I really didn’t think about it, but knew every day that did pass was a day closer to one day getting a dog.

I received an email in May regarding setting up an appointment to the “Meet the Dogs” session.  Through more emailing, an appointment was made. The day of the session, I had no idea what to expect. When I walked into the room, it looked like a military board-type set-up, a bunch of chairs on one side of a table with one chair on the other side.

They asked some questions before any dogs came out and more questions came after I interacted with each dog. I met and interacted with Outback, Kingston, London, and Slate. When I was asked at the end to rank the dogs from my favorite and working down, Outback was my favorite.  To me this was a very important step in the process and another step closer.    

After this, you wait for about a week to see if you were matched up with a dog or not. I received an email stating I was matched up with a dog and the team training class was going to be sometime in October. I believe this now was early June.

The next several months were slow since I now was waiting on the packet regarding the training class and the name of the dog that I was matched up with.

I think it was early September that I received the packet in the mail telling me that I was matched up with Outback and the dates of the class.

The month of September and those few days in October right before the first class date were very slow.

Next thing I knew though, it was the day training was to begin. Team training was awesome and the entire staff and volunteers really care about the clients and of course the dogs.

Outback’s first day at his new home was on Thursday, October 10. That late afternoon and evening was very rough for me. Hank, our little dog was barking just about nonstop. I didn’t know if the barking was aggressive barking or what it was. I tried a lot to get him to stop barking. Sometimes he would stop and shortly after, he would start right back up.

I was really frustrated and was almost to the point of calling Amanda [SSD’s training coordinator] and telling her that the next day, I would be returning Outback and dropping from the class. But I got myself calmed down and recorded 3 different barking sessions for either Amanda or Ryan [one of our dog trainers] to watch and help me.

The next day, which was Friday, Amanda watched the recording and told me that she sees Hank wants to play. There was no aggressive barking here at all. I’m happy to say that Outback and Hank are now best friends. They play a lot. Hank thinks he is as big as Outback.

Within a few days of Outback and me being around each other all the time, I could see a bond forming which has grown and continues to grow. I knew that he knew what he has to do for me and he just needed to get used to me instructing him on what to do.

I was nervous about our Public Access Test. In the back of my head though, I knew we would be okay since our practice test was good.

The morning of our Public Access Test, I kissed Outback and told him that today was a big step for us and that I would do the best that I can for us. He did great. I was told we both did great. After we passed, I gave him a kiss again and told him I love him and that we are a team now.

We have been out to a lot of different places, such as Walmart, the VA Medical Center, Kmart, Sears, some restaurants, and the gun show in Lebanon.

The gun show was something that I would have never gone to alone. I decided to try it out with Outback. He did great there. It was very packed. I had my focus on him the whole time that I really didn’t think about how packed it was. Outback and I even met Governor Corbett.

At restaurants, I still want to sit the way that I do—my back toward a wall or at least facing a majority of the people and including the door. But I have found that even with Outback in a down-stay as instructed, my focus is still on him throughout the entire time we are there.

There are still places that I will not go and I will not subject Outback to. I look out for him as he does for me.

Once again I want to thank everyone that made it possible for Outback and me to be a team, which has also made it possible for my life to be a little fuller.