18 January 2012

Book Review: 'Until Tuesday'

When U.S. Army veteran Luis Carlos Montalván returned from war in Iraq, he attempted to fight physical injuries and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (P.T.S.D.) with alcohol. Now, Montalvan sees himself as part of a buddy team, one that negotiates a thousand potential obstacles and conflicts every time they move out the door.

His buddy's name is Tuesday, a golden retriever who wears a uniform. Tuesday is a psychiatric service animal.

Montalván describes Tuesday's purpose early in his book, "Until Tuesday: A Wounded Warrior and the Golden Retriever Who Saved Him":
Tuesday isn't an ordinary dog. He walks directly beside me, for instance, or exactly two steps in front, depending on his mood. He guides me down stairs. He is trained to respond to more than 150 commands and to realize when my breathing changes or my pulse quickens, so that he can nudge me with his head until I've come out of the memories and back to the present. He is my barrier against crowds, my distraction from anxiety, and my assistant in everyday tasks. Even his beauty is a form of protection, because it attracts attention and puts people at ease. [p. 4]
Montalván's book, co-authored with Brit Witter, goes on to present a conversationally paced primer on service animals, PTSD, and how people don't always make it easy for soldiers to come home from war.

Dog-lovers will revel in Tuesday's apparent sense of humor, and the dog's own journey growing up as misfit of the litter. People who love and support soldiers will appreciate the plain-spoken insights of an American fighting man, in and after the uniform. For example:
It's not the fear of death that damages the mind in the combat zone [...] It's the constant state of watchfulness [...] After a while, my body stopped understanding that it was under stress and started thinking that watching for death, always, was simply the way to live. When you can laugh about gunfire and mortar rounds, instead of ducking them, your mind has changed. [p. 59]
Even when pushing toward the poetic or introspective, Montalván's prose remains rooted in the practical. In one scene early in training and bonding with Tuesday, for example, Montalván literally "takes a knee," a teaching and centering technique recognizable to any soldier:
[T]he trainer [...] was a real drill sergeant, and she kept insisting that I jerk hard on his leash to regain his attention. Well, I'd had enough of drill sergeants, and Tuesday had, too. I didn't have any interest in choking him, but with Tuesday refusing to behave, and the trainer chirping at me, and the photographer waiting, my pulse began to pound and I felt a familiar PTSD-like anxiety creeping into my mind [...]

So I took a time-out. I got down on one knee, right in the middle of the sidewalk in downtown Dobbs Ferry, grabbed Tuesday around the neck, and put my forehead against his. I waited until he stopped glancing around, then started talking to him in a calm, quiet voice. [...] After a few seconds, I knew Tuesday was listening. [...]

Lu Picard [another trainer] told me later we were together for five minutes, although I could have sworn it was thirty seconds at the most.

"What was that about?" she asked, as Tuesday and I walked past, side by side.

"We're okay now," I told her. "We reached an understanding." [p. 127]
Lessons are easy to sniff out along the way, such as "The leash goes both ways" and "PTSD is dwelling disease." The book's pace is easy, the tone conversational. Mostly, it's like walking the dog. There more than a few playful romps, but there are also occasinal tense moments and tight spots, everything from an Iraqi-border showdown to a first-date frustrated by a dog-blocking bus driver.

Montalván and Tuesday are now ambassadors of a sort, out to win hearts and minds, and to open doors for others like them.
Imagine if a store owner said every day to a customer, "Sorry, no wheelchairs. We don't want people like you in here." Horrible, right? Well, that's what physical barriers like steps say to wheelchair-bound people every day. And that's how it felt every day with Tuesday, who was as vital to me as a wheelchair to a paraplegic. [p. 175]

Everyone knows you don't grow back a leg that's been blown off by an IED, but everyone assumes you can heal a brain that's been scarred. You can't. You can restore trust. You can reconnect with the world. You can live a full life. But the experience is with you forever. It doesn't have to be burden. [...] For me, it was a new way to serve. [p. 193]
*****

'UNTIL TUESDAY' AUTHOR TO SPEAK IN IOWA FEB. 12


Luis Carlos Montalván will speak to a Central Iowa audience Sunday, Feb. 12 about the ways his service dog has influenced his life, with a book signing to follow. Roosevelt High School, 4419 Center St., Des Moines, Iowa, 2 to 4 p.m. Tickets are $20, and are available at Canine Craze and Beaverdale Books, via Paws & Effect, or at the door.

This event is a fundraiser for Paws & Effect, a Des Moines-based non-profit that trains and places service animals with combat veterans and others. It can cost more than $20,000 to purchase, train, outfit, and maintain a psychiatric service animal.

Readers of the Red Bull Rising blog may remember that the organization named one litter of future service dogs has been named in honor of the 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division.

For more information regarding the Feb. 12 event, contact Paws & Effect Executive Director Nicole Shumate at: nicoleshumate@paws-effect.org; 515.822.5285.

3 comments:

  1. I need a Tuesday. And now I'm curious about Montalvan's book. Adding it to my list...

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  2. O Charlie Sherpa, you got me crying in my breakfast tea, which is a good thing. Luis' story about "taking a knee" with Tuesday, touched me deeply. This action revealed Luis' own wisdom and deeply compassion. This is a very human and living creature story. God bless Luis, Tuesday, and you Charlie Sherpa. Thanks so much for your blog and story telling. Peace be with you.

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  3. @ Christina Fawn: I've been learning a LOT about service animals recently, and agree that Tuesday's mission sounds awfully attractive! Paws & Effect, the non-profit mentioned in this post, also needs volunteers to raise puppies before they're fully trained and placed with veterans. If only my house and family were in a position to volunteer right now!

    In the state of Iowa, a service-animal-in-training is afforded the same access rights as a service animal, which means that "puppy raisers" are encouraged to take their dogs out in public: concerts, restaurants, work, etc. Helps with socialization, acclimatizes the dogs to noise, chaos, the randomness of life. Plus, it's a great, friendly, hands-on way to tell the PTSD/homecoming stories. The dogs have already opened a lot of doors (and minds) here in the Middle West. But it's going to be a long road. I'll keep you posted.

    @ Debbie of Boise: Thanks for your kind words! I'm glad that the excerpts I selected resonated with you. In truth, the book was hard to distill down to a "short" blog-post. Lots of nice moments and insights in there. Bonus news: There's talk of an "Until Tuesday" movie out on the Internet. How great would that be?!

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