U.S. Veteran Says Service Dog Saved His Life

by Myla Cruz

New York-based veteran John Welch served in the Marines in the 1980s. Following his time serving, he spent decades convinced that living with depression, anger and suicidal thoughts was a sad fact of life. Then he met his service dog Onyx.

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"They're wounds of war that are far removed from the war," Welch said of suicides among veterans in this Today article. "It's like a bullet that finally found its mark... but it's self-inflicted.” 

The rates of depression, PTSD, homelessness and suicide among US veterans are daunting to say the least. A July 2016 report from the Veteran Affairs, found that an average of 20 veterans commits suicide in the US each day. These numbers have lead to heightened focus on alternative forms of treatment such as meditation, cannabis, and use of a service animal. 

A 53-year-old Welch reflected on his own experiences with depression, and suicidal thoughts, and how his attitude changed with the acquisition of a service dog.  He said, "I was an angry guy. If you cut me off in your car, I was going to your house. But now I stay in the right lane. I'm like Mr. Magoo."

This past April, John was introduced to America's VetDogs, an organization that pairs service animals with veterans in need of physical or emotional support. “Within a few days of knowing this dog I found what was missing in my recovery,” he said of the experience. Onyx is a lovingly docile black Labrador who wakes Welch up when he has nightmares and comforts his stress and depression both at home and out in the world.. 

Also on Z Living: How Emotional Service Animals Help In Unexpected Ways

Welch’s description of how the relationship works is difficult to beat: “At any given moment, my brain can go to outer space,” he says. “She knows when I’m in that situation. That dog rests her chin on my knee and looks at me with those beautiful brown eyes, and I touch that dog’s head and now I’m back on Earth. I’m in the present.”

“She saved me,” Welch expresses gingerly. While VetDogs aren’t specifically trained to tackle or prevent suicide, it seems the intrinsic love and connection of dog and man has simply proven itself to pivotal, if not the purpose of, Welch’s recovery.

This story surfaced as a part of September’s National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, and continues to make headlines well into the month of October. Inspired by Welch’s bravery, Z Living is also well versed in the value of finding the perfect pooch. 

Has an animal affected your life in a major way? Share your story in the comments below!

WATCH on Z Living: Finding Fido, where photographer and behaviorist Seth Casteel hosts plays matchmaker each week between a person and a pooch. Stay tuned, ​Finding Fido premieres on Z Living in 2017 (we know, we know, we're eager to watch too!) In the meantime, we'll be sharing plenty of behind-the-scenes footage, interviews, and yes, adorable dog pics from the set of Fido to keep you in the loop.

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