Chris & Reef

Service dog Reef brings relief

PTSD no longer rules veteran’s life

“I turned into someone I could not recognize.” That’s how U.S. Army veteran Chris describes himself and the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) brought on by serving in Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm in the Gulf War, followed by a 23-year career as a police officer. The devoted husband and stay-at-home father of two daughters says that PTSD brought him close to a breaking point after having to take a medical retirement from the police force.

“I experienced nightmares and flashbacks, felt isolated and depressed, lost interest in doing things I once enjoyed, had intrusive thoughts, and felt numb and detached from friends and family. I went from once being an outgoing person with friends to a person who didn’t have many friends and was afraid to leave my home at times. I sought and received years of counseling and numerous prescription medications, but nothing quite got me over the big hump until Reef came into my life.” 

That happened after Chris contacted FSD, a call that led to his eventual introduction to a yellow Labrador retriever named Reef. They graduated together in 2021 and since then have been inseparable. Says Chris, “Reef can pick up on signs when I become anxious and upset, and she disrupts them by giving me a gentle nudge or jumping onto my lap and licking me in the face. It’s like magic! Reef gives me the confidence to get out of the house and even to be in crowds. When I feel uncomfortable in crowds, Reef can create a space around me to help me get through times when the crowds are a bit too much. Reef makes me look forward to leaving the house and doing things again.” 

Chris also has been diagnosed with Gulf War Illness, which causes chronic pain throughout his body that can make it difficult for him to walk. Reef has been trained to lie on Chris’s body to help relieve the pain through her body heat and the pressure of her weight. She also helps Chris by gently pulling him up the stairs as he walks and walking next to him when coming down the stairs to help Chris with his balance. 

“Reef has made my PTSD symptoms no longer rule my life,” says Chris. “She is like an alarm clock that goes off whenever my PTSD symptoms are triggered. Reef grounds me and helps me recover faster than I have ever been able to before. Reef gives me confidence to leave my home, be in crowds, and enjoy being out more than I have for a very long time!” 

In fact, Reef’s comforting presence allowed Chris to travel to Disney World with his wife and children in February, a trip the family had been saving for since the girls were born. Before the trip, Chris admitted that he had been secretly dreading the flights and the crowds for a long time, but once he knew he was bringing Reef, he felt a sense of excitement.

Upon their return, Chris was eager to report how the long-awaited adventure went. “Reef was amazing at helping me handle the crowds and continuously helped make a comfortable space around me. I never would have survived the crowds at the airport or at Disney World without Reef! When I was having difficulty walking, Reef gently pulled me along, and she really helped me up and down stairs, too! Just when I thought I knew all that this wonderful little dog could do, she surprised me! Reef also was allowed to join me on several rides throughout all the Disney World parks. I have lots of great memories to cherish from our Disney World trip. Just wanted to pass on how much I love Reef and how much she has helped me out in such a short amount of time.”

Chris is incredibly grateful for his new partnership with Reef and says he wants to pay his good fortune forward. “When I became a police officer, I prayed that I would help make a difference to as many people as I could. I have decided to use this same concept in promoting FSD to as many people, especially veterans, as I can to possibly make a difference in someone’s life like Reef has made in mine. Thank you, FSD, you are amazing!”

Contact Erin Conley at [email protected]freedomservicedogs.org for all media inquiries.