Therapy dog helps veteran with PTSD get his life back on track

MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- To some, a pet is simply an animal, but others see them as a true family member. But one dog in particular is even more than that -- a healer.

Kyle Wagner has two loves in his life -- music and Jade, his nine-month-old chocolate lab.

"She picked me I think, more than I picked her," Wagner said.

It was no accident that the two found each other. Wagner walked into the Elmbrook Humane Society in search of a therapy dog.

"Kyle was a different case because he`s going through some stuff. He needs a dog that`s a little bit shy, that can learn from him, that he can teach, that he can give direction to and that`s exactly the type of dog that Jade was," Rachel Coolbroth with Elmbrook Humane Society said.

"For awhile there I was pretty bitter feeling just like, being alone and not having anything, going through some tough times," Wagner said.

It all started after Wagner was deployed to Iraq in 2007. He had joined the Army a year earlier at the age of 19.

"We lost four guys right away. That was pretty tough," Wagner said.

As a medic, Wagner experienced things which ultimately led to his diagnosis with post-traumatic stress disorder.

"We actually had to dig up and identify the bodies and, I couldn`t even talk about that when I came back. I just, without going to the VA, discussing with my therapist that I have, I couldn`t even talk about it right now," Wagner said.

When Wagner got out of the Army, signs and symptoms of the disorder were persistent -- except when Wagner was around his parents' dogs. That's when he knew he needed a dog of his own.

"As soon as I saw her and as soon as she got comfortable enough to go over and sniff me, I was just, I was really emotional and just kind of, just perfect," Wagner said.

Though Wagner has only had Jade for a few months, he's already noticed some big changes in his everyday life.

"You`re just there and just like a dog, you live in the moment so the whole PTSD and worrying about the unknown and what`s going to happen, it just, it doesn`t really come to mind when you`re with them," Wagner said.

"When he`s not comfortable dealing with the outside world by himself, he`s got a friend, a companion, someone that he can count on that will always be there for him," Coolbroth said.

"She`s always here. She`s always listening. She`s never there to judge and she`s always got an eye out. Kind of extra security. She`s my little battle buddy," Wagner said.

Now with Jade by his side, Wagner is looking to the future, rather than dwelling on the past.

"I`m piecing myself back together, one day at a time, one step at a time," Wagner said.

Wagner is working towards going back to school. He hopes to combine his medical experience in the Army with his love of animals -- studying veterinary medicine.