Veteran with PTSD Finds Help with Service Dog
OTTAWA, Kan. – It’s often said that a dog is man’s best friend. But even that may sound like an understatement to Iraq war veteran Allen Hill. The Ottawa, Kansas man has a service dog to help him with his Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. His yellow lab, “Frankie” was trained by prisoners through a program called “Puppies Behind Bars.” After months of training, she came to Hill knowing more than 80 commands.
Retired Sergeant Allen Hill suffers from the most extreme case of PTSD his psychologist has ever seen.
“[Frankie] is not there to alert him to danger,” Dr. Neiters said. “He is so over-focused on his environment, that he’s very, very alert anyway, and what she is here for is to help him stay grounded.”
As we interviewed Dr. Neiters, tornado sirens sounded their monthly alarm test. He predicted the sound would trigger Allen Hill’s PTSD.
“Basically his whole nervous system gets hijacked, and he’s no longer here psychologically” Neiter said. “He’s back someplace else where there’s danger. Practice sirens going off, those are the sirens that he would hear in Iraq.”
When we stepped outside Dr. Neiters office in Overland Park, we discovered Sgt. Hill in a trance. His head cocked upward toward the sky, his body frozen but his eyes occasionally twitching as if he was trying to make sense of the tornado sirens. That’s when Frankie sprang into action, jumping on Hill’s chest and licking his face to bring him back to reality.
Frankie has been trained to sense when Hill’s PTSD takes over his body. It took her a couple of tries but she eventually brought Sgt. Hill back to the here and now. Afterward Sgt. Hill gave credit to his dog.
“She does what she has to do to get me to pay attention to her and come back to the present and realize that all is well,” he said.
Hill says the sound of sirens had transported him back to Iraq.
“Usually when the sirens would go off we would be in the middle of being shelled or rocketed or something,” he said.
Sgt. Hill has so many possible triggers that he takes Frankie everywhere with him. We were with him when he and Frankie toured Ottawa University. Hill’s motive was to show how easily something, anything, could be a trigger. Sgt. Hill plans to attend the university in the Spring. He says returning to school was unthinkable until he got Frankie.
“Before Frankie I isolated and I shut myself off from the world,” Hill said. “Since Frankie, I’ve been an active participant in my life.”
His wife Gina says after Allen came home from Iraq he couldn’t even do simple chores.
“He couldn’t go outside at our old house and get the mail,” she said.
The Hill’s have a new house now. A house built by the team from TV’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. The house was built with triple paned windows and sound-proof sheet rock. Allen can’t even hear when it’s raining outside. If there are fireworks he can retreat to a “quiet room” built especially for him and Frankie. The room contains a special chair that shoots out various fragrances to smell and includes a TV with headphones that plays calming scenes, likes waves lapping along a beach.
“I’ll put on one of scene scapes and I’ll just lean back in my chair and listen to the birds,” he said.
The home builders didn’t forget about Frankie. They built her a grooming room. Hill says Frankie has her own bathtub and shower.
“I have all the soap and stuff I’ll ever need,” he said.
Allen’s wife says the new house has had a calming effect on her husband, but the real difference has been Frankie.
“I knew there was potential for her to make a huge difference in his life,” she said. “To the extent that she has now it’s pretty exciting when you think about where he was then and where he is now.”
“She’s helping me get back to my old self.”