U.S. Marine Roger Rua had done over 100 security patrols as a machine gunner in Afghanistan with the 9th Engineering Support Battalion, Security Platoon. He was 22 years old. He could never predict that one day, he would rely on a dog to change his life.
On March 29, 2012, he awakened after a night on the road for an early patrol and was injured by an improvised explosive device (IED) within 10 seconds of opening his eyes. “I checked to see if I had all my limbs, realized everything was intact and I wasn’t bleeding out. Then my limbs went limp. That’s when I realized I had a severe spinal cord injury.”
Roger was paralyzed from the chest down. After months of rehabilitation at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, he moved his toe. Slowly, Roger not only regained sensation but movement enough to walk again. It was the abrupt transition from Marine to civilian that became his next challenge.
“The military does a good job preparing you for war,” Roger said. “But no one prepares you for coming back injured or broken. Everything in my life was put on hold.”
The experience left Roger, a true hero, with debilitating anxiety, panic attacks, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as well as the lingering impacts of his spinal cord injury. Roger sought help from Canine Companions through an expertly trained service dog.
Nearly 50 years ago, Canine Companions created the concept of a service dog for a person with a physical or sensory disability. These highly skilled service dogs are trained to open doors, pick up dropped items, pull wheelchairs, interrupt nightmares, and so much more. For children, adults, and veterans, these canine heroes make every day Independence Day.
“When I met Service Dog Dixon at Canine Companions, he acted like he had been waiting for me to come home to him for the past two years,” Roger recalled. “We had that immediate bond the day we met. I’ll never forget that day.”
Service Dog Dixon was trained for two years, 18 months with a volunteer puppy raiser and six months with an expert, certified Canine Companions professional trainer. Dixon is trained in tasks to help with Roger’s symptoms of PTSD, interrupting anxiety attacks and nightmares, and retrieving items Roger can’t reach during flare-ups of his spinal injury.
Canine Companions has placed more than 7,500 task-trained service dogs with children, adults, and veterans—entirely FREE of charge. The demand for these service dogs for our nation’s heroes is great.
“Dixon has helped limit my anxiety and panic attacks to a point where it’s manageable. With a spinal cord injury, the worst thing I can do is sit around and do nothing. Thanks to Dixon, I can get out of the house, knowing he’s right there to help me physically and mentally when I need him.”
Roger’s nightmares have decreased since receiving Dixon, who awakens Roger when a flashback occurs. Dixon has also brought unrelenting joy into Roger’s family, especially the gentle, loving way Dixon plays with Roger’s young son.
“I would like to believe that everyone who has been paired with a service dog like Dixon is changed for the better. It shows. It means so much to us.”
Right now, you can make a difference for individuals living with disabilities and the brave men and women who have served our country.
Support our heroes today at canine.org/veterandonate
Canine Companions is leading the service dog industry so our clients and their dogs can live with greater independence. We provide service dogs to adults, children and veterans with disabilities and facility dogs to professionals working in healthcare, criminal justice and educational settings.