A Veteran, a Dog, and a Life Success Story
Randal Greeson, a former Marine from Ozark, was struggling with anxiety after serving as a field radio and reconnaissance operations specialist in Iraq from 2004–2005.
His team established the routes that the group could take and performed raids. It was a high stress environment and he was always worried about things. “Everything culminated—the constant explosions and not knowing if there was an IED [improvised explosive device] under the piece of road or was it just a torn up road,” he said.
After returning home, he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and was on numerous medications. “My doctor had left the VA Clinic and I didn’t have a doctor for two years,” he said. “I tried to get back in and the clinic told me that they were full. I went to Dothan and they told me the same thing.”
He called Doreen, a local veterans service officer, and within a week, he had an appointment with a new primary care doctor. “She takes care of any kind of issue and has been very, very helpful getting me into where I need to go,” he said. “She is probably the best help of anyone that I have seen through the VA.”
After getting the help he needed, he decided to try to get a service dog. “I saw some video of people with service dogs. I tried to get the VA to sign off for me to qualify to get a dog from Service Dogs of Alabama,” he said. “I had everything in order but needed a letter from a doctor to get the dog. The VA wouldn’t sign off on the letter because the doctor said that they were still testing the use of dogs.”
Greeson decided to look for another route to get a dog. “A guy who used to work with me on Fort Rucker was training dogs for Rebuilding Warriors,” he said. “I got in touch with him and provided him all the info they needed and they donated Berlin to me.”
Berlin is a four-year-old Belgium Malinois, a breed commonly used for police and military work due to their energy, intelligence, and drive. The breed is known for its loyalty to its owner and its strong urge to work.
Berlin has had a lot of training. Before Greeson received her about a year ago, she went to a double amputee who didn’t want her. Berlin went back into training for two or three years and was exposed to many different situations. She is not spooked by anything.
“I did about two weeks of training with me, her and the trainer. When they felt that I was ready, they allowed me to take her home,” he said. “We’d meet every day to train some more until they were confident that I knew how to do the commands and knew how do to everything. It worked out really, really well. She’s been a great dog.”
She helps by doing “grounding.” It may be nothing more than a paw stepping on his shoe, but the Gulf War veteran feels it and finds comfort in it. “If my mind has wandered off, she’ll lean into me to change my focus and get my mind back to where it needs to be. If I get hyper vigilant—constantly looking around—she’ll do something get my focus back to normal,” Greeson said. “If a car backfires or there is some other loud noise, she’ll nudge me or put her paw on my foot to divert my attention and help me get through it.”
When she has her gear on she is a totally different dog than when she is not working. “She is very smart; as soon as her collar and vest go on, she knows that she is working. When we are just relaxing at home, she is just a regular dog and a big baby,” he said. “Still, if she sees me getting upset or irritated, she’ll come up and calm me down.”
Berlin goes everywhere that Greeson does and has been a great help. “I never used to leave the house except to work before I got Berlin. Now I feel free to go places,” he said. “I have really noticed the difference since I got her. I don’t know where I’d be without her.”