July 5, 2001 was the day my life changed. Before that day I was, for the most part, a carefree and trusting woman looking forward to the next adventure. Being assaulted and raped at gun-point in my home altered my life-view and changed how I lived in the world. Three weeks prior to the assault, I had adopted a rescue dog I named Nicky. Nicky wasn’t much of a guard dog, but we survived the attack together. His upbeat attitude and tireless desire for walks kept me moving in the months that followed. Knowing I had to get up each day to feed and care for him, even in the midst of the ceaseless legal process, kept me motivated. Yet I still struggled with posttraumatic stress and it’s accompanying insomnia, depression and anxiety.
As the years went by Nicky remained by my side, but the trauma symptoms persisted. My breaking point came in the Spring of 2008 when I was notified that my attacker was being released from prison. The weeks that followed that notification are a blur in my memory. My anxiety attacks spiraled out of control, my insomnia worsened and the simple tasks of daily living became near to impossible. Nicky looked at me with curious eyes, wondering what was happening to his “mom”.
My counselor knew how much I loved Nicky. During one session she gently suggested that it might be time to add another dog to the family. She had heard of the work trained dogs were doing to help soldiers returning home with PTSD. She also had experience with a family that had suffered a traumatic incident and found healing through their German Shepherd Dog. I took her suggestion seriously and went on to do my own research.
Bady is my working German Shepherd Dog. He is trained in obedience and personal protection. We worked together for two months before he came home in August 2008. The fist night he slept beside my bed was the first night I truly slept in seven years. Bady is neither an attack dog nor a vicious dog. He comes to work with me every day and lays quietly on his mat as people come in and out of my office. Once he gets to know someone, kisses are soon to follow. Yet, he is trained to defend me if anyone threatens my physical safety and provides invaluable emotional support.
Bady has never had to act on his protection training. Yet having him next to me at home, in the car and at work has given me the sense of security that I needed in order to find peace in my heart. Knowing that it is his job to be vigilant, keep watch and be alert allows me space to relax. Looking back on the years following the assault I can see now that I never allowed myself to let down my guard. Having Bady by my side has saved and enriched my life in ways I never thought possible.
Nicky and Bady were fast friends from the time I brought Bady home until Nicky died of old-age in October 2010. For a young, driven German Shepherd Dog Bady was very respectful of his elder. He allowed Nicky to set the boundaries and he abided by them. Together we formed a pack of love, peace and mutual respect.
We have now passed the 10th anniversary of the assault. Bady and I continue to train together. We go through obedience drills at home and are part of a local Schutzhund group for exercise and fun. While I can’t return to the life I had before I was assaulted, I am much closer to being that carefree, trusting woman. While he probably doesn’t realize it, Bady is my hero. He allowed me to re-enter my life and, in the process, made it better.
Update: Since I wrote this post our pack has expanded. Niles came along in 2013 and has been a good brother for Bady and companion for me. Last fall Bady entered retirement and has been enjoying a life of leisure, walks and treats. While Bady has left big paws to fill, Niles is doing his best to fill them and I am doing my best to trust that Niles can. And, while post-traumatic stress, anxiety and depression are still a part of my life, my symptoms are much less and, sometimes, non-existent.
My two German Shepherd dogs have changed my life in ways I can’t even begin to describe…. and the journey continues.