Yve & Cruz

“Cruz saves my life every day,” says veteran

Life has served up a long string of challenges for Yve, the mother of 20-year-old twins who will celebrate her 34th wedding anniversary in December and enjoys quilting and baking. In 1990, she was honorably discharged from the U.S. Marine Corps after injuring her back during preparations for the First Gulf War. In 2017, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a double mastectomy, chemo, and radiation. And in 2019, she was hit by a drunk driver, resulting in hip surgery, a knee replacement, additional damage to her back, and an ankle replacement scheduled for later this year.

These events left Yve with mobility and balance issues as well as PTSD, causing her to stay at home most of the time due to anxiety around people and a fear of falling and not being able to get up on her own. When she heard about Freedom Service Dogs from someone at the Rocky Mountain Regional VA Medical Center, she decided she wanted to learn more. Yve stopped by FSD’s training center in 2021 and spent over an hour talking with a member of the Client Services team. “I had no idea of all the things service dogs can do, and I started to think that maybe a service dog could help me,” she recalls.

After applying for a service dog, Yve was invited to come to FSD to meet a potential match named Cruz. Says Yve, “He was a beautiful black Lab puppy, a ball of energy, and he came right up to me. Later on, I went to Target with one of the FSD staff members, and we walked around the store with Cruz. I thought, ‘I don’t go to stores. This could really change my life.’”

Yve and Cruz spent two weeks in placement class with other FSD clients, during which time they went on outings with their dogs to Denver International Airport and King Soopers. For years, Yve had largely avoided going to grocery stores. “They took me to the next level of anxiety,” she says. “I was always so flustered, and I couldn’t get out fast enough.” But with Cruz at her side and FSD staff nearby for support, Yve had an entirely new and different experience. “I went through self-checkout and put Cruz in a Down position in front of me and took my time. I kept giving him treats, and I didn’t even think about the people around me. That never happens, and I was so relieved.”

When Yve and Cruz had finished checking out at King Soopers, they walked to the front of the store so she could find an out-of-the-way place to put Cruz in a Down position. Recalls Yve, “An FSD staff member rushed over to me and said, ‘Do you know where you’re standing?’ I said, ‘Yes, at the entrance to the store,’ and he said, ‘Yes! With your back to the entrance!’ Most veterans never stand with their backs exposed like that. I didn’t realize what I had done, as I only wanted to make sure Cruz was in a safe place and wouldn’t get stepped on. It was unbelievable that I was so focused on Cruz that it didn’t even occur to me!”

Yve and Cruz graduated from FSD in December 2021, and since then, they have done things that Yve would have found unimaginable a year ago. “I wanted to go to REI and buy a camping pad for my son,” she says. “I almost talked myself out of it, but I really wanted to do it, so Cruz and I pulled into the parking lot and I looked at him and said, ‘OK, we got this!’”

Inside the store, a large, loud group of women approached the area where Yve and Cruz were shopping. “I knew I was going to panic and either fight or flight, because those are the only two modes I really know,” says Yve. “But an employee saw my distress and took me away from that mob, which de-escalated things quickly. I decided it was important for me to not walk out and to get what I came for, so I got the camping pad, walked around the store a bit, and even went to the bathroom. It was so good to do what I wanted to do and not feel upset or forced to leave empty-handed. When we got back in the car, I yelled, ‘Yes, we did it!’ I felt so successful and so grateful that I didn’t have to do it alone and that Cruz and I had managed just fine.”

Earlier this year, Yve traveled from Colorado to Wyoming with her family to see her daughter perform in a rodeo. In the past, she typically had watched these events on video because of the crowds and the difficulty of getting around with her cane, and if she did attend, she sat high in the stands, away from people. This time was different, much to Yve’s delight. “We stayed in a hotel and ate at restaurants, and Cruz and I sat right in the middle of the stands so I could see my daughter. It was wonderful to feel empowered to be in crowds of people and not feel affected like I was before. I can do more with Cruz by my side.”

Yve’s newfound confidence has enabled her to share the story of her journey with Cruz during FSD’s placement classes and in other settings. “I’m not super social, and I usually never talk to people or make eye contact when I’m at the VA,” says Yve. “But when people there see Cruz, their faces light up, and I stop and let them visit him. They’re my fellow vets, and what a change it makes for them. I can’t help but want to improve their day, even if just for two minutes.”

While Yve is quick to sing the praises of Cruz and her newfound freedom, she readily admits that having a service dog is work. “Cruz helps me in so many ways, but he doesn’t do those things without me giving him cues, working with him, and taking him places where he has to do those things. All of his training is based on that. Even on walks in our neighborhood, we stop and do different cues, and I can see how much it does for him, how happy and excited he is. It would be easy not to do those things, but it’s crucial to my being able to be in public and have a life. Cruz is my battle buddy first and foremost, and I have to make sure I’m doing the work for him because if I don’t, he’s not successful in what he does. And when he’s successful, I’m successful and enjoy life more.” “Cruz saves my life every day, just by being here for me,” says Yve. “He has this connection with me, and when I feel bad or start crying, he puts his paws on my lap and gives me a hug. Sometimes I hold his paw and just hang out with him. I realize what a difference he has made in my life, and it’s truly unbelievable to me.”

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