With The Help Of A Service Dog, This Army Veteran Is Overcoming His PTSD

"He has helped the rest of the family by helping me."

Coming home from serving your country is a powerful, long-awaited moment for most any veteran, but more than half a million suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This can result in panic attacks, flashbacks, avoiding people and places, negative changes in mood, nightmares, and in extreme cases, suicide.

When U.S. veteran, McLean Raybon, returned home from serving in Afghanistan, he found it difficult to adjust to civilian life with his wife, Kerrin Raybon, and their two young children. He suffered from frequent night terrors and had difficulty leaving the house. 

"I stayed home most days and found it hard to interact with people, especially at events," he told A Plus via email. "One time, I went to a wedding and stayed in my truck the whole time. It was tough for me to speak with other people because they would often ask about my experience overseas, and the things I saw and did while serving."



Things started to change after Raybon was paired with Merrick, a rescue dog turned service animal.

Courtesy of Merrick Pet Care
Courtesy of Merrick Pet Care

Raybon was visiting the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in his hometown of Victoria, TX when he met a man affiliated with K9s For Warriors. The nonprofit rescues dogs and retrains them to service people suffering from PTSD, traumatic brain injury, and/or military sexual trauma, at no charge to the veteran. He understood what Raybon what going through as he had also worked overseas. He then helped him fill out an application for K9 For Warriors.

Raybon explained that each service dog goes through extensive training in the K9's For Warriors program. Merrick's training was sponsored by Merrick Pet Care, which is how the dog got his name. It was on the second day of training that Raybon met Merrick for the first time.

"You don't know anything about the dog before you meet them," he told A Plus. "On the second day of training, two trainers were on one side of the privacy fence and I was on the other. They asked me if I was ready to meet my dog and Merrick came running. You then go through a period of bonding where the trainers ensure you are a good fit for each other. "

"I didn’t choose Merrick, but I could not imagine being paired with any other dog."

Once the pair formed a bond, Merrick was trained to focus on obedience and specific tasks for six months. On January 21, 2017, the two graduated their training together.

With Merrick's help, the U.S. veteran has been able to feel more confident leaving the house. In crowded situations, Merrick helps keep Raybon calm and directs his attention to other less stressful things.

"The biggest way Merrick has helped me is he wakes me up when I am having a night terror. He has a way of just knowing something isn't right, and he wakes me up right away. When I fall back asleep, I don't go into another night terror."

"He has helped the rest of the family by helping me. I can sleep at night, which makes me a better father for my kids."

Courtesy of Merrick Pet Care
Courtesy of Merrick Pet Care

He added, "My kids love to play with Merrick. My daughter plays dress up with him. She lays him down on pillows and starts dressing him. Merrick is a huge help to me, but at the end of the day, he is a dog, and kids love dogs."

Raybon hopes that veterans realize that getting a service dog is an option for them when they return home. He reveals that he didn't even think of getting one before because he thought service dogs were only for the visually impaired. 

He also wants veterans to know medication is not the only way to alleviate PTSD. "There are additional options out there that can also change your life. There are studies being funded at Purdue University to show just how effective the K9s For Warriors service dogs are in lessening the effects of PTSD on veterans and their families."

Courtesy of Merrick Pet Care
Courtesy of Merrick Pet Care

Overall, Raybon says he hopes more people realize what a difference service dogs can make to veterans. "Those who have never experienced serving overseas may not truly understand, but a service dog has a way of making your life easier and lifting you up when you are feeling down. They may help in a way your family cannot."



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