13 February 2012

Dog Saves Veteran, and They Write a Book

Luis Carlos Montalván, author of "Until Tuesday: A Wounded Warrior and the Golden Retriever Who Saved Him" spoke to an audience of approximately 70 people and service animals at a Des Moines, Iowa fund-raiser Sunday afternoon. The 2011 bestseller is to be published in paperback later this week, and is being developed as a movie.

The book was earlier reviewed on the Red Bull Rising blog here.

Montalván served both in the Maryland Army National Guard soldier and in the active-duty Army, with 17 years of total service, and multiple deployments to Iraq starting in 2003. After physical and psychological injuries stemming from his time in uniform, he found himself back in the United States abusing alcohol, divorced and socially isolated, fighting to navigate the hard road "from warrior to broken warrior, from veteran to disabled veteran to person with disabilities."

The solution, for Montalván, came in the form of an imperfect and furry spirit named "Tuesday."

"Assistance dogs can help you keep your balance, physically and psychologically," Montalván explained to the Des Moines audience, with Tuesday parked by his chair on stage. "They can wake you up from nightmares. They can take you out of that fog of war. They can take you out of the past, and bring you to the now. And, in so doing, they can mitigate your symptoms."

Montalván's visit to Iowa was sponsored by Paws & Effect, a Des Moines-based non-profit that trains mobility and psychiatric service animals for Midwestern veterans diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (P.T.S.D.).

"Many times, it is difficult for a veteran who has just received a service dog to fully and articulately express their circumstances. In receiving a service dog, what was once invisible, becomes very publicly visible: They must explain both to themselves and to others why they have a service dog. They must express they have PTSD," says Nicole Shumate, executive director of Paws & Effect.

"Through public-service television campaigns and arts events, we try to educate our communities about the challenges and stigmas our recipients face," she says. "Having Luis and Tuesday visit us here in Iowa allows us to show both recipients and the public what's possible—how service animals can be a very real solution to some of our veterans' physical and psychological needs."

In his presentation, Montalván encouraged leaders and citizens to seek out ways to address the needs of veterans with psychological injuries. "There are 18 veterans a day committing suicide," he noted. "That's 18 warriors, 18 of our sons and daughters, 18 of our toughest men and women, the soldiers on your right and left flanks, people with whom you've served."

"Tuesday wasn't the most obedient dog or the most beautiful dog," said Montalván, "but what I latched onto was that here was a dog that was very emotionally intelligent. I was going to have to earn his trust. He wasn't going to do things just because I told him to. He's sort of like me in that."

"He's my best friend, he's my prosthetic. He's my psychological touchstone. He's my spiritual and physical guide," said Montalván. "If it weren't for Tuesday, I don't know where I'd be—but it wouldn't be here."

Editor's note: The Red Bull Rising blog is an occasional partner to Paws & Effect. Also, Paws & Effect is currently training a litter of service dogs in honor of the U.S. 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division. The dogs will be placed with veterans later this year.

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