Service dog guides veteran through PTSD
By AMANDA MOSS | Richmond County Daily Journal, Rockingham, N.C. | Published: March 13, 2014
Croghan is giving a life lesson on the importance of canine companionship
The German Shepherd has been at Boot Sessoms' side since he was a 7-weeks-old pup. It wasn't until recently that Croghan, now 15 months old, began to take up training as a service dog. Croghan has since helped change Sessoms' life.
At the beginning of March, Croghan became part of the program known as Canine Angels, a nonprofit organization that aims to rescue dogs from shelters and prepare them to serve disabled veterans and first responders. This is to help lower the numbers of the dogs that are put to death each year. The organization is also willing to take on dogs already owned by the veterans to train them.
"Since he has started his training, it is amazing what he can help me with," said Sessoms, 46, of Hamlet. "He reminds me to take my medication, he can wake me up from a nightmare, he can get me a bottle of water if I need one and he can also carry notes to my wife, Kathy. Things really have changed for me, and Kathy can tell a difference in my attitude."
Sessoms served in the U.S. Marines from from March 1987 until 1990, when he suffered a career injury to his back. Since then, Sessoms has had to undergo multiple surgeries while suffering from anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
"I don't like people behind me," Sessoms said. "Every time I would go to a store I always had to have my back pressed up against the wall. Now Croghan watches my back wherever I go. I have taken him out in public, and he is so well-behaved."
Sessoms makes the trip to North Myrtle Beach for the training classes, but considers it well worth his time. Croghan isn't yet certified as a service dog, but after only three classes he is way ahead in his training.
"His scheduled graduation date is May 30, but I think he'll finish his training sooner, " Sessoms said. "He's learning all his commands very quickly, and he can also understand some sign language. Kathy can tell a huge difference since he began the classes."
Sessoms has become an ambassador for the organization because of his great success.
"It has been such a good experience, and I would recommend this service to anyone," Sessoms said. "It is an outstanding organization and the board members are some of the best people you'll meet. The founder, Rick Kaplan, has been training dogs for over 28 years."
Sessoms said that Kaplan currently has 14 dogs that he is training for the program. Sessoms considers Kaplan to be very patient and passionate with his animals.
"He is dedicated to helping veterans even though he wasn't in the military," Sessoms said. "He's amazing at what he does. One of them, King, is the most extraordinary dog to watch. King can put dishes in the sink, grab the newspaper (and) carry in grocery bags. You watch him and you just wonder how on Earth he knows how to do it, but that is just part of the program."
Any disabled veteran interested in applying for a service dog can contact Canine Angels info@CanineAngelsServiceDogs.org or call 917-575-6235.
"I can't thank the staff of the VA (Veteran Affairs) Clinic enough for recommending the service to me," Sessoms said. "To me, the organization is saving not just one life, but two."