Canine connection: Dog helps veteran with PTSD

Sue Guinn Legg • Jan 31, 2012 at 10:40 PM

Greg Linkous, a 53-year-old Air Force veteran disabled with post traumatic stress disorder, has a new best friend.

Freyja, a 2-year-old German shepherd specially trained to respond to any episode of anxiety or depression she senses in her master, began her new life as Linkous’ assistance dog on Tuesday.

Rescued from a shelter by the Imminent Danger German Shepherd Rescue of Greeneville, Freyja is just back from training at the nonprofit Partners for Patriots veterans’ assistance dog training school near Nashville. Freyja’s people say she has the innate abilities it takes to succeed in her special line of work — keen intuition and even temperament.

“You can’t train a dog to do that. They either have it or they don’t. She’s got it,” Cindy Brodie, Partners for Patriots founder, said as Freyja and Linkous became reacquainted.

The veteran and his dog first met in October at Imminent Danger, where owner Deborah Lewellen keeps her eyes out for dogs suited for the special training Partners for Patriots provides at no cost to veterans with a need for their assistance. After a week and a half at Linkous’ home near Veterans Affairs Medical Center at Mountain Home, Linkous was convinced Freyja was the assistance dog for him.

“With the PTSD, I’ve had a lot of depression and anxiety over the years,” he said. “Counseling at the VA has helped me quite a bit with that. But I still have days I don’t even want to get out of bed. She wouldn’t have that. She got me out walking every day. That alone got me feeling better. I lost five pounds in just that week, week and a half I had her.”

Linkous named her Freyja for the Norse goddess who watches over fallen soldiers and lifts them from the battlefield. He called his doctors at the VAMC to help complete the application needed for the free training provided by Partners for Patriots in Liberty in Middle Tennessee.

For PTSD, Brodie said, the idea is to divert a veteran’s thoughts to the dog and away from whatever may be stressing them.

If Freyja senses depression, she alerts and responds by coming to Linkous for attention. For anxiety, Brodie said, her response is a plea for affection. For dog lovers like Linkous, a lick, a nuzzle or a whimper will be met with a pet and it’s petting a dog that Brodie says does the trick. “Petting a dog has a calming effect and the longer you pet a dog the calmer you become.”

Because Linkous also has some hearing loss, Freyja also has been trained to alert him to any knock at the door, smoke detector or alarm.

In appreciation and support of her nonprofit work, Linkous requested and received free accommodations for Brodie at Hampton Inn and a couple of free meals from Cheddar’s and O’Charley’s to make her feel welcome.

Lewellen, meanwhile, introduced Linkous and Freyja to Bonnie Burns, a manager at the Tractor Supply store in Greeneville that donated bedding, treats and dog food for her homecoming. Cherry Point Animal Hospital in Kingsport donated the hip exam she needed prior to her training.

Brodie has trained eight dogs since she founded Partners for Patriots in 2009 and is eager to train more as funds become available. “Dog training is expensive,” she said. “And I started (her free nonprofit service) right in the middle of a great recession.”

More information about Partners for Patriots is available online at the agency’s Facebook page and at www.partnersforpatriots.org. More about the program may also be obtained by calling Brodie at 615-408-5040 or info@partnersforpatriots.org.

More information about Imminent Danger Rescue, which provides care and attempts to find permanent homes for German shepherds in line to be euthanized, may be obtained by calling Lewellen at 329-4652 or 638-3797 or emailing imindangergsrescue@gmail.com.

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