John Ready of Austintown attended the Jan. 25 meeting of the Disabled American Veterans Chapter 2 with his four-legged friend Memphis.
The three-year-old Golden Retriever had a medical condition that required an expensive operation.
Ready addressed the DAV membership by telling his story and how he was paired up with Memphis. It all began after he returned home from serving overseas.
"I served with a U.S. Army field artillery unit stationed in Iraq from 2006 to 2009," Ready said. "We did a lot of security work and kicking in doors."
After he returned home from service, Ready said he started facing several problems. He suffered severe anxiety, chronic insomnia and severe headaches, which are the signs and symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Ready said he went through an up-and-down roller coaster ride until 2013, when his wife left him and he started downhill fast.
"I was not a very nice person," he said.
Instead of turning to alcohol, he turned to the Department of Veterans Affairs for help. He was able to start treatment for PTSD and while in that treatment, was told he was a good candidate for a service dog that was trained to sense PTSD.
Ready got into the program and was teamed up with Memphis, who was provided by the organization paws4vets, a nonprofit that specializes in training customized assistance dogs for two general groups, children and adolescents with physical, neurological, psychiatric and / or emotional disabilities and veterans and service members with Chronic / Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, traumatic brain injuries and military sexual trauma.
The dog was trained to sense and react to Ready and his disorder. Ready said PTSD is rated on a scale on 0 to 10 - 10 being the level at which a person loses all control and goes ballistic. The dog is trained to step in before a veteran reaches level five.
The cost of a PTSD service dog is between $30,000 to $40,000. The dogs are trained to respond to the different stress levels at different degrees in order to stop a vet from reaching the top levels of stress.
Ready said when he first got the dog, he would grow anxious rapidly and the dog would seem to flip out.
"Memphis would go full bore and skip the first two levels of stress," Ready said. "I thought something was wrong with him, but the problem ended up being me."
As time went on, Ready grew to understand the dog. He said when he first starts feeling anxiety, Memphis will give him a little nudge on the leg. If Ready doesn't respond and calm down, Memphis senses it and will stand up and place his paws on Ready's chest and look him in the eye. That would normally break Ready's focus on anger and instantly calm him down. If he were to go near a stress level 10, Memphis would go crazy and try to pull Ready outside or away from the situation, which is what the dog did early in Ready's training.
Today, Ready knows when Memphis first nudges him that it is time to calm down. The partnership has paid off and has even brought Ready's family back together.
One other piece of Memphis' training is a way for the dog to literally cover Ready's back. Many veterans with PTSD don't like it when people come up behind them. Memphis is trained to alert Ready that someone is behind him, and if the person starts to get to close and Ready becomes uncomfortable, Memphis will position himself between Ready and that person.
The biggest problem Ready has with Memphis is when people want to pet the dog.
"When he is working, he should not be treated like a pet," Ready said.
He said the vest means he is working and needs to stay alert. He does take the vest off and gives Memphis some play time at home.
"To say he saved my life is traumatic," Ready said. "But he did allow me to have a life and get back together with my family."
Last week, it was all about getting Memphis some help. The dog developed a cyst on its back leg that needed to be removed. The veterinarian told Ready the operation would be $500, which was more than Ready was able to afford, so he came to the DAV for help.
"That falls under what we are allowed to spend money for," Tony Revetti, adjutant for DAV Chapter 2, said.
He said the DAV will always help a veteran with medical aids. He said if a wheelchair were broken, the DAV would help repair or replace it. The service dog is a tool to help the veteran, so the DAV could fund the surgery. The membership took a vote and all agreed to fund the operation.
The DAV holds several fundraisers throughout the year to be able to help veterans in the Mahoning Valley. One big fundraiser is the annual Bass Tournament that will take place June 10 at Mosquito Lake. Information on the tournament and other DAV fundraisers can be obtained 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sundays at the DAV table at the Four Seasons Flea Market, 3,000 McCartney Ave., Campbell.
Fundraisers and donations help the DAV assist veterans like Ready, who don't have anywhere else to turn in their time of need.