11 Dec A Soldier and His Therapy Dog – The Story of JT and Phoenix
There are no words that are not clichés to describe 2020! As the year is coming to an end, we want to share an uplifting story of unconditional love, courage and hope. We hope it will be inspiring!
From Soldier to Civilian
Hello, my name is JT and this is a story about an incredible being that saved my life and I attempted to save his. I served in the Army for just under 10 years in reconnaissance and surveillance. I loved being a soldier. I loved what I did and was good at it.
I got out of the military and was trying to transition back into civilian life. I felt lost, vacant of emotions and completely unable to connect with people. I was introduced to this tiny white pill known as OxyContin and I was able to start feeling something again, but it was not something good.
I was having surgeries and was legitimately prescribed this drug but was never advised of the associated dangers. The pills would wash away all the negative emotions. I became psychologically and chemically addicted to this drug.
PTSD, Addiction & Phoenix
A couple years later, I was also diagnosed with severe PTSD. Eventually, I knew I needed to go and talk to someone. A variety of different treatment options for my PTSD didn’t help at all. My psychologist made a radical recommendation – perhaps a service dog would benefit me. I was isolating away from people as I could not find a way to connect with them anymore. The idea of a service dog was appealing to me. I had grown up with dogs and a dog would be a natural fit to my lifestyle. Before long I had a service dog. His name was Phoenix, a beautiful, big, black lab. He was a very special dog and although I didn’t realize it right away, he would come to be the best thing that ever happened to me.
I had Phoenix for a few years and while we had gotten very close, my PTSD was still strongly affecting my life and my addiction had reached its pinnacle point. The entire time Phoenix was right by my side, through everything. He never judged me, looked at me in disappointment or complained. It was the total opposite. He was always very happy just to be next to me. The only thing he ever asked of me was food and to play fetch. Those two things, along with me, made him the happiest pup in the world.
The Darkest Days
Things had really begun to get dark for me. My rock bottom was fast approaching. I convinced myself that I would rather be dead than to live another day like this. The first few cuts were small. I then took real action to end my life. I leaned back in my chair, closed my eyes and waited to fall asleep. It was at this time that the most incredible thing happened. Phoenix had sensed my heightened stress level, and his training and love for me took action. He did the only thing that he could do in that moment that also happened to be the most powerful thing he could do.
He walked up between my legs, sat down in front of me, laid his head in my lap and looked directly into my eyes. He was telling me in the only way he could that he loved me and still needed me to stay here with him. It was the simplest gesture yet the most powerful. It was also the only gesture that would’ve been able to pull me out of the darkness that I was in. This woke me up enough to realize I couldn’t let this happen.
Quickly, I was able to fashion a tourniquet using Phoenix’s dog leash. I then passed out. When I woke up again, I was in the hospital. Phoenix, my best friend, had literally just saved my life.
Giving Phoenix the Gift of Time
Several years later, I noticed Phoenix was walking slightly awkwardly and seemed to be having pain in his back hips. An MRI showed that Phoenix had a tumor growing on the base of his spinal cord right where it connected to the brain. I was crushed when the doctor told me the results.
I knew immediately what I was going to do. Phoenix saved my life once and it was now my opportunity to save his. The only possible option was radiation therapy. We were referred to one of the top veterinary Oncology hospitals in the country, UW-Madison Veterinary Hospital and a treatment plan was put together. I had spent all my savings on diagnostic tests to discover what was going on. This treatment plan was going to cost between $7,000 and $10,000.
It still never once crossed my mind to give up, but I knew I was not capable of affording this treatment on my own. I decided to try and reach out to whomever might potentially help. I had probably petitioned over 50 different organizations when I came across a small group out of New Jersey called The Brodie Fund. They help people fund lifesaving treatments for their pets.
So, I sent my letter requesting support. I got a response back quickly. While The Brodie Fund typically works with a small network of veterinary hospitals, the Board was so moved by Phoenix’s heroic story that they knew they had to help. Sally Williams and the rest of the amazing Board at The Brodie Fund decided to reach out to another organization, Sidewalk Angels. This organization is run by Marisol Thomas who is the wife of Dave Thomas, lead singer of Matchbox 20.
Sidewalk Angels fully funded Phoenix’s radiation treatment. I don’t know if I have ever been as happy and hopeful as I was that day. Phoenix’s condition was deteriorating quickly. This was not a cure, but the treatment would help improve his quality of life and add some more time for him to be with me.
Sally also had another gift for Phoenix and me! The Brodie Fund wanted to honor Phoenix and were creating a brand-new grant program specifically for helping veterans pay for their pet’s cancer treatments – Brodie’s Phoenix Fund. I was speechless as tears poured down my face.
I so desperately want to end this story by saying Phoenix went through his treatments, recovered and is a happy, healthy pup once again. I cannot. My beloved Phoenix was not able to fight through what was happening to him. Nothing can take the pain away that I felt and will continue to always feel.
The one bit of joy that I cling on to is in the gift that Sally Williams and the rest of the amazing team at The Brodie Fund gave me. This ability to have a platform to take Phoenix’s story and share it with the world in hopes that it will help others. To be able to let as many people as I possibly can know what an amazing soul Phoenix was, and the powerful effect service dogs can have.
It is also my hope that by sharing his story, it will be a call to action for the ones reading it, to help, however they can. You never know when even the simplest, smallest gesture, like a dog laying his head in his human’s lap, could save another person’s life.
Phoenix, I love you, I miss you and I will NEVER forget you! Thank you and I cannot wait to play fetch with you again.