Navy vet’s troubled life transformed by service dogs
By KIM STRONG | York Daily Record | Published: January 30, 2021
YORK, Pa. — Budhi Blair's first dog was beaten to death in front of him.
The dog had learned to protect him from abuse inflicted by a relative, and one day, the dog's heroism was punished.
This was how Blair's life started, and it crumbled even more through the years since: a stint in the military that caused PTSD, the brutal death of his best friend, habitual drinking, a fight after a wedding that led to a long stay in prison, and a knife attack in jail.
In the worst of his moments, though, a pup broke through his pain.
'She opened me up'
Ryder won the honor of Best Man at Budhi Blair's wedding.
Blair moved to Gap in Lancaster County when he was a teenager, moving in with his aunt and uncle, who tried to stabilize his life.
"They were in the deep end of the pool, and they didn't know it. I'd been so traumatized. They wanted me to be a normal kid, and I just wasn't," he said.
Unaware of the darkness that lingered from his childhood, Blair joined the Navy and lived on a ship for most of his nine-year stint.
One day he found himself called in to help clean the horrific scene of a killing, a man unidentifiable through all the blood, Blair said, but it turned out to be his best friend.
Post-traumatic stress disorder followed Blair out of the service and into life as an executive at an IT company.
A relative suggested taking a dog that needed a home.
"This is where the story gets more potent for me," he said. "I can't explain the voodoo. She opened me up."
He had been in and out of relationships with women in his life, but never stuck around. Salsa's presence opened him up to a real relationship, then he met the woman who would become his first wife and the mother of his daughter.
All along, though, PTSD wrapped around his brain and wouldn't let go. He didn't understand it, but it weighed on him. He had lived with trauma most of his life. He managed to keep his business life intact but drank heavily at night. Eventually, his work life began to fail, and his marriage did, too.
One night in 2006, he drank so much he blacked out. He woke to police officers with guns drawn. He had tried to kill someone.
Charged with attempted homicide and aggravated assault, he couldn't defend himself. He had no memory of what happened.
"I felt like a compete dirtbag," he said.
In jail, he ended up in the suicide cell.
"At some point in that spot, I broke. I started seeking out counseling," he said. "I started talking about my stuff and got sober. I started helping other people."
He worked with other inmates to attain the GED and taught art and computer classes. He was reforming himself, and it got noticed. He was asked if he wanted to do dog training. Saved again.
Layla was a feisty pit bull.
"The only person that could interact with that dog was me. I looked at that dog, and I saw myself," he said.
"That's the first night I slept through the night in 10-15 years," he said.
She had scars; he had scars, physical and emotional. Among his wounds was a mark on his back where he'd once been stabbed while in prison.
"Dogs make me more human," he said.
Today, several years out of prison, Blair is remarried, to Susan Blair, with a trained service dog named Ryder, a high-energy black Labrador-Brittany mix.
Blair found Ryder through a dog training business he runs out of his home in Felton, Training Buddy, which gives him the chance to work with the one loyal creature he has known.
Ryder lived with a family who wanted training for the dog then decided he was too much for them.
"I had to meet Ryder where he is," Blair said. Instead of changing the dog's personality, it was a matter of adapting to it.
Abby Weitkamp, a Training Buddy employee from Wrightsville, calls Blair "a highly intuitive person," who tunes into a person's experience with his or her dog.
That's what he did with Ryder, turning the dog into a service animal who "grounds" Blair in public settings, giving him a focal point when his PTSD begins to rise.
"I'm so scared of going out in public because I'm so scared something will happen," he said. He feels tension when someone gets too close to him or looks at him the wrong way; it brings back childhood and military years of waiting for the enemy to pounce. "It's that dog that makes me OK. It's that dog that makes me capable of going out in public."
It took him decades to understand the wounds buried inside of him, but he's not cured.
"Without a dog, I'd be upside down in a hurry," he said. "I was broken and had to have somebody come in and help me."
It was a pup.