To hear John Carson talk about Mr. Freckles, you might think he’s just a stage parent, sitting in the audience watching his child be fantastic at whatever sport or art form he’s doing. He dotes and brags on Mr. Freckles, making it sound like he might be the next Youtube sensation of dogs riding unicycles or something. Instead, John is the American hero of this story, he’s the one who served in Vietnam, and Mr. Freckles does something much more important than some gimmick repeated over and over again for throngs of people recording his antics with their smart phones.
See, Mr. Freckles is John’s PTSD support dog. John received a medical discharge from the Navy in 1970. He went to commissary school where he learned to be a field cook for the US Marines in Cambodia. John’s best friend was assigned to the same job, but he was killed overseas and John was sent home.
Like a lot of people, he tried to deal with the trauma himself.
“I had a lot of problems after I got out of the service and didn’t really know what was happening to me and took the route that a lot of people do: had a bout with alcohol for a while, got past that and became a workaholic. You try to outrun it, and eventually it catches up with you. … I crashed, and I was in a very dark place.”
For six years, John was so traumatized he couldn’t finish a sentence or even talk on the phone to somebody.
When none of that worked, his doctor took a new approach to his treatment.
“I was prescribed an emotional support animal by my doctor,” John said. “Like a lot of people, I didn’t realize I was dealing with PTSD and those kind of issues.”
That’s when Mr. Freckles, a kooikerhondje — a breed from Holland — came into his life and turned everything around.
Since Mr. Freckles has helped John so much, he wants to turn around and help other people. John, along with a team of animal-loving volunteers, is starting a nonprofit that will help veterans get paired with emotional support dogs.
“Rescue Me is something that I started almost four years ago,” John said. We’re officially known as the Rescue Me Volunteer Group.”
John is an author, and he’s been all over the state with Mr. Freckles as they try to get the word out (eh, get the bark out?) about PTSD support dogs.
Rescue Me was founded so they could match shelter dogs with veterans who are dealing with PTSD, traumatic brain injuries and other related illnesses.
Rescue Me will give other veterans the chance to have an emotional support dog by paying shelter fees, training fees and supplies for all the animals before they go to their home. John is also working with several veterinarians who will offer discounts for the life of the animal.
The board of directors include John in addition to two retired Air Force colonels.
When veterans come home from war, they often feel isolated, like they’re missing the only people who knew what they went through.
“In combat, even if you have to run into a bombed out building, you know that somebody’s got your back,” John said. “A lot of the issues that veterans report … they have trouble going out in public. They see snipers around every corner. They have trouble staying in the present. They left the war, but the war didn’t leave them.”
So, in some ways the dogs help them cope more than other people do. Dogs don’t ask questions. Dogs just love you.
Let’s back up here. If you’ve never had a shelter dog, you’re missing out. There’s something about the bond between a rescue animal and a human that is inimitable. No matter how bad your day is, how depressed you are, how grumpy you’re being towards other humans, they’re happy to see you. They want to snuggle with you, even on your darkest days. Not only that, it gives people something they have to take care of. You have to get up and exercise because the dog needs to go on a walk. You have to engage with it a little bit because the dog needs to play.
After all, some of these dogs have been in traumatizing situations.
“A lot of the animals that are in shelters have either been abused or abandoned … traumatized,” John said. “Animals can actually suffer from PTSD in those conditions.”
John and Mr. Freckles hope to give veterans some of that camaraderie by giving them someone who doesn’t ask questions. They just sit there and enjoy your company.
If you’ve been in a home decor store lately, you’ve probably seen those little signs that read “Who rescued who?” It’s a joke for most people because rescue animals quickly become part of the family, but in this case, it’s really a toss-up for who rescued who.
Rescue Me is still a new organization, but the first veteran-pet match is in the works right now. Stay tuned to the Community Journal for more heartwarming stories from these veterans and their new best friends.