My name is D.J. and I am a 40-year-old father of two young children which is my pride, joy, and motivation for healing. I have been in emergency services since 16-years-old when I started as a lifeguard and quickly moved into a role as a first responders for the American Red Cross, the first time I did CPR I didn’t even have a drivers license. This fueled my need to serve and at 18-years-old I went to school and became certified as an Emergency Medical Technician. During that time I worked as an EMT in an ambulance, a helicopter, and for a major sports organization. I was also in law enforcement with the Veteran Affairs Police, and transitioned into being a Police Dispatcher for Louisville Police, and eventually an Emergency Operator for MetroSafe in Louisville.
DJ and Marvin
During my time with EMS I came upon the scene of an active shooter. I was able to stop the shooter, but got tunnel vision and the shooter came back almost taking my life. I carried this huge burden and secret with me ruining my relationships and friendships. It came to a point where I almost made the ultimate mistake, but with seconds to spare decided to turn my life around or give it better effort for my kids and my best friend’s sake.
While researching different treatments for PTSD, after coming out on social media to all my friends and family, I was looking at YouTube for shock therapy, but YouTube decided to say “Hey you nut…they got service dogs for that!” Thus a whole new world opened for me and I knew what I needed to help mend my wounds.
I applied for multiple organizations all over the country. I would have to raise my own money, pay my own travel, and lodging, and pay for my training. I had no idea how I was going to make this happen on a civil service salary, but I would find a way.
I started searching for dog training centers in Kentucky to train my pet to be a service dog. It was a stretch, but I was desperate. All my previous searches never showed Dogs Helping Heroes, then I clicked the second, and then third page of search results; there it was! I was so excited I couldn’t contain myself. I thought surely there is a catch. All these other places had me paying at minimum $5000, DHH there was no mention of money. Prepared for the catch, but still I contacted Adressa, did my application, missed my first interview because I fell asleep on my couch, had a nervous breakdown, got saved by Adressa and the board with another appointment, interviewed, cried like a baby in front of the board, and now I have Marvin.
Marvin is my, as of 2020, 18-month-old black lab. He’s big, mischievous, full of energy, affectionate, and a ruiner of shoes and wallets. He is all that, but mostly he’s my savior, my friend, and my crutch. At this point in our training he’s not trained to recognize my triggers, yet he does. His head pops up on my lap before realizing I’m spiraling. He watches my back to ensure no one will sneak up on me. He checks the rooms and corners before I go in. He rushes me to an exit if I’m in a crowd and go into a panic. Mostly he’s just there. When I’m nervous I look down at him, he looks at me with his brown eyes and tongue hanging out, and I feel kinship and trust I can’t find in any human. My PTSD wasn’t only ruining my life, but my kids. Their dad wasn’t able to just go to the park, go to the school Christmas Party, or take them to Malibu Jacks. I cried at my interview because it hurt me so bad my son and I stood in a line at Holiday World and I can’t remember any of it, because I spent an hour in a triggered fight or flight. I was missing the best parts of their lives and failing at the one thing that mattered, being a dad.
Marvin, DHH, the board, the Door Store Middletown and my fellow heroes have taken the guy who contemplated the last few minutes of his life in the front seat of his car with cold steel in his hand, to the guy who spent the day at Malibu Jacks watching his kids have fun and be kids, while my partner watched my back. I have hope, perspective, and escape from my internal demons in the form of a 70lb, fur covered, crazy tornado, of a black lab named Marvin.