I fell into conversation with the older gentleman after asking to pet his dog, as I do. We were at the start of a trail race, his first ever and something he’d long wanted to do but was unable to until he was matched with a particular type of companion; a PTSD service dog.
A veteran with a sweet but nervous energy, he had been so afraid race organizers wouldn’t allow him to run with his dog he had purchased a separate race entry for him. Though very friendly and a pleasure to talk to, he declined to be interviewed when I told him I was interested in writing a story about PTSD service dogs and the astounding difference they can have on the lives of those lucky enough to be matched with one.
But soon I had the honor to meet veteran Nick Deeds, who was more than ready to talk about his transformative relationship with his PTSD dog, Chance.
“I served in the navy for six years,” Nick said. “I got injuries that prevented me from further serving, but no one event I can point to. You don’t realize how deep the struggle is until you are in it.”
After a few years, Nick’s’ life had shrunk:
“I got to the point I couldn’t go shopping, to the movie theatre; anything with more than 30 people was a no go.” he said. “We stopped going out; a lot of things just stopped. And being cooped up breeds more anxiety.”
NIck’s wife of 10 years, Dylann, watched helplessly as her husband turned into a different person from the one she’d married.
“There are only so many doctors and counselors for vets so prescribing meds is the easy route” she said. “But Nick has low blood pressure and a very low heart rate so with him it would have been rolling the dice, and we weren’t willing to do that.”
The couple, who live in Newport, had heard about service dogs and thought it might be a good option for Nick, but they couldn’t afford the expense. The Veterans Administration, which did not recognize PTSD dogs as a legitimate health expense at the time, has since begun a pilot project to explore the idea.
After roughly three years of frustration, a coworker told Nick about Cindi Tringali, a fellow PTSD sufferer who had not only benefited from her relationship with a service dog, but trains them for others.
“We had a dog named Chance we had trained and wanted to donate to the right person,” she said “We tried a few unsuccessful matches over the space of about a year. It has to be the right dog for the person, and the right person for the dog. When Nick came in and said, ‘Hi, I’m Nick, and I’m ready to deal with my PTSD,’ it made a huge impression on me. So, we introduced him to Chance and it was love at first sight. It still brings tears to my eyes when I think about it.”
Though Cindi, owner and operator of Camp Canines in Lincoln City, has been a general canine obedience trainer for more than 25 years and has experience training companions for other issues like epilepsy, a personal incident led to the new service assistant venture, Canines 4 Minds.
“I grew up with PTSD as the result of an early childhood trauma but didn’t really realize what was going on,” she said. “Then I was at my therapist’s office one day and he said, ‘You know, they make service dogs for PTSD sufferers.’”
Enter a Doberman named Honor.
“Before we got Honor I was a service human,” said Cindi’s partner Lewis Smith. “I always had to be ready. With him she could go anywhere; it really changed both of our lives.”
I asked about situations PTSD sufferers might experience and what role the dogs play in alleviating them.
Service dogs, Cindi explained, are trained to recognize cues like increased heart rate or sweat production, to stop their person before they get into a panic situation or help if they are already in it, and to assist with seemingly simple situations with stress potential.
“I trained Honor to find Lewis, my daughter, and my car,” she said.
“If Nick gets stressed, Chance will nuzzle him or sit on his feet and it keeps him from escalating,” Dylann said. “He also wakes him up from nightmares.”
On a recent trip to Las Vegas the couple got separated in a crowd and Nick began to panic. Chance got him to a quiet area, helped calm him, then helped him find Dylann.
Now the couple are using their experience to help Cindi raise the next dog, who is ready to be matched with the right person.
Her name is Hope.
For more information about Canines 4 Minds and the available service dog, find Canines 4 Minds on Facebook.