Paul’s story is about finding acceptance and love in the midst of heartache — about recognizing the spark of hope, and dedication to making that hope a reality. For Paul, a combat veteran who has PTSD, hope is furry and four-legged — 80 pounds of canine love.
Goose, a yellow English lab, is named after the iconic character in Top Gun, and he more than fills the real-life role as a faithful wingman for Paul.
A first meeting with Paul might begin with guarded conversation, his self-protective nature shielding his big heart until trust is earned. Then, that heart and feeling is apparent not just on his sleeve, but front and center, in actions and words.
“Since I came home after my service tour, I had some tough times. My marriage got rocky, and my wife and I eventually split up — I’ve been separated from my family and three amazing kids for years. I was injured pretty badly in a farming accident that took away my ability to run. I walk with a limp down, and I can barely wiggle my toes. After the accident, I was discharged from the Army Air National Guard, so I lost that too, a place where I had community and a sense of meaning. PTSD has made all of it harder to deal with. It’s been a lot to handle, and I’ve had to do it mostly alone.
I heard about service dogs for veterans like me and wanted a dog more than anything. I just knew that something like that could help me. Just the idea of having a service dog in my life, having companionship and a helper to guide me through my worst moments, kept me going. I applied for dogs with a few groups, but for whatever reasons, I was getting denied. I was so desperate for a service dog that I decided to find and train one myself. A friend of mine had a litter of pitbull puppies and gave me one, so I went online and found a pitbull service dog page on Facebook and posted that I was looking for help in training this puppy. Someone saw my post and connected me with Northwest Battle Buddies. Then NWBB approved my application for a real service dog, so instead of trying to figure it out by myself, I gave the puppy back and put everything I had into the NWBB program.
I needed to raise money to pay for my trip to Washington state because I just couldn’t afford it on my income. I had about half a year to raise the money. I started putting out donation jars around my hometown in Green River and had about half a dozen yard sales. I sold my truck, a nice Chevy 2500, to buy a less expensive vehicle with better gas mileage for the long drive to Washington, and I saved up all I could, but I still wasn’t quite there.
One of my friends, a buddy who is no longer with us, was a veteran with really bad PTSD who passed away because of an overdose. His father knew me and didn’t want me to end up like his son, so he offered to help me raise the money I needed to go get my service dog. Here in Utah, folks know that the watermelons we grow in Green River are the best in the state. So, we loaded up his truck and made lots of long road trips to sell watermelons. I must have sold 1600 watermelons. If not for that, for my late friend’s dad helping me out, I wouldn’t have been able to go.
When Northwest Battle Buddies finally called me to tell me I was going to get a dog, and it was time to go — that call and the days after felt like a dream, like it wasn’t quite real. This had been my goal for years, but I’d been turned down so many times in the past. I haven’t been a very happy person for a while now in general, and I was also pretty depressed at the time, when I got the call. But I got this feeling of hope — it was the best I’d felt in a long, long time.
When I went to Washington and first met Goose, he started wagging his tail, came straight to me, jumped up on my lap, and started giving me kisses. It was great. I was actually happy.
Before I had Goose, it was much harder to deal with my injuries, my PTSD, all that stuff. He’s helped me so much; I almost can’t believe it. I live in a small town where I know everyone, and it’s easier for me to live here. When I go to the big cities up north, it’s hard for me with all those people — I can’t always tell if someone is a good guy or bad guy by looking at them, and that’s where my mind goes, because of what I went through in Iraq. Before getting Goose, I couldn’t go to the cities alone. On the drive there, my hands would get so sweaty with anxiety that I’d have to drive with a rag on my lap just to wipe the sweat off my palms — and it felt even worse once I was actually there. But now I have the confidence to go alone, just Goose and me. I keep the whole backseat of the car spotless for him, and he has a teddy bear back there just like the one he has in his bed at home, and when he knows I’m feeling anxious, he puts his paws on the center console and gives me a kiss. Every day, he helps remind me to take my pills three times a day. If I have a nightmare, he’ll wake me up and calm me down. He helps me through thick and thin. Tonight my town’s fire department is testing their whistle, an old air raid siren that makes the same tone we had in Iraq when we had incoming, and that’s tough for me. Goose helps bring me back to the real world through that stuff — his presence is pretty powerful. He’s the most amazing thing in my life. I’d take a bullet for him — he’s always there for me, I know he has my six, my back.
Doing the seven-week training with NWBB was tough, but it’s been the best thing for me. Becoming a dog handler has been a lot of responsibility, more than I thought it’d be, but I know I’m up for the challenge — having Goose in my life is so worth it. Being responsible for him means I have to take care of myself, too. Goose counts on me to feed him, take care of him — it’s kind of like having a kid. I can’t do something stupid that would get me in trouble because I don’t want to lose him. He gives me the courage and confidence to be a better version of myself. And I’m not just doing it for me — I do it for him too, to make sure he’s getting the good life he deserves.
And I know Northwest Battle Buddies is there for me to help with whatever I need when it comes to Goose. You don’t just go up there and get a service dog and that’s it. You become family — NWBB will be part of my life forever. Shannon, the organization’s owner, said maybe the reason I was denied for service dogs in the past is because God wanted me to wait for Goose. He was meant to be my dog.”
“Paul and Goose were one of those teams that quickly found their way into my heart. Paul was so humble and unassuming, very kind and simple. Paul was almost childlike when he met Goose, it was incredibly sweet. The bond between the two was instant, the connection was undeniable. Even though Paul was very uncertain moving forward through the process of learning how to handle Goose, Goose was steady and unwavering as Paul learned to lead him.
Before Paul met Goose I know that the majority of his time was spent alone, now Paul is never alone. Together they face the challenges life brings, and together they live each day better than the one before.” – Shannon Walker, CEO + Founder NWBB
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