By RICHARD DYMOND — email@example.com
LAKEWOOD RANCH — Something disturbing happened to Bradenton’s Matt Wilson, 53, during his U.S. Navy career, which spanned 17 years, from 1978 to 1995.
He’s not exactly sure, but it may have been the shipboard fire that occurred his third day on his first ship and the realization that on a Navy ship at sea, there is no way to call 911.
He was on active duty during the Persian Gulf War, but did not see combat, he said.
Whatever it was, it eventually blossomed into a case of post traumatic stress disorder that has afflicted Wilson with panic attacks since he has been out of the military.
The attacks have constricted his life in Bradenton, leaving him feeling “closed in” and panicky in large, noisy crowds.
But thanks to a wiggly, soft, sweet, lovable Doberman pinscher service dog named Babe, Wilson may be on the road to recovery.
Wilson got Babe just three days ago from K-9s for Veterans, a Tampa not-for-profit that has supplied 71 service dogs for disabled veterans since 2008.
The Lakewood Ranch-Sarasota Elks Lodge 2855 on Lena Road held a fundraiser for K-9s for Veterans and raised more than $3,400, said Wilson, who attended the Sunday fundraiser to show his new service companion.
“Being out of Bradenton for more than 30 years I know that a summer fundraiser is tough because a lot of people are up north,” Wilson said. “So, for this kind of donation to come out of a relatively small Elks Lodge is just fantastic.”
“K-9s for Vets is a mom-and-pop operation with a focus on vets, which matches our focus, which is children and veterans,” said Rick Thorson, past exalted ruler for the lodge. “We understand the dogs pick the vets in this program, not the other way around, which we find exciting.”
K-9s for Veterans founders Mike and Pam Halley be-lieve that dogs can sense both physical and mental afflictions in their owners and help them to relax and cope.
Halley said the dogs can recognize diabetes, high blood pressure and cancer, as well as anxiety from post traumatic stress disorder.
The Halleys rescue standard poodles, Doberman pinschers, German shepherds and even some smaller breeds from animal shelters and train them for service work. When the dogs are ready, they bring about six of them into a room with one veteran and look for a connection.
“I am not looking for a pet,” Wilson said Sunday after the fundraiser, which also featured entertainment from Sarasota Chorus of the Keys as well as Lynn’s Spins and performing artist Ernie Keller. “A pet you leave at home. Babe and I will be inseparable.”
Wilson said Babe, who is federally approved to enter any establishment just like a service dog for the blind, is already making a difference.
“When I go into a panic attack I often forget to breathe,” Wilson said.
“She is showing me that I am doing this by break-ing my train of thought. She acts up. She is telling me, ‘Hey, this is what you are doing. Take a breath. Slow down.'”
For more information on K-9s for Veterans, go to www.k9sforveterans.org or call 727-692-7101.
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be contacted at 941-748-0411, ext. 6686, or tweet @RichardDymond.
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