VETERAN SHARES EXPERIENCE WITH SERVICE DOGS

Travis Thompson with Sadie

Article and pictures Courtesy Effie Hall of the Grinnell Rotary Club.

 Service dogs can help veterans resume normal lives, according to Travis Thomson, a veteran who spoke at the Grinnell Rotary Club meeting held Tues., Aug. 6.

Travis Thomson, formerly of Boulder, CO., and now of Grinnell, IA, served in the army from 2010 to 2019.  Soon after his basic training, he was deployed to Iraq in April 2011 as part of the last battery to eventually leave Iraq later that year.  While there he encountered heavy indirect fire, mostly from mortars and improvised explosive devices or IED’s.

Never hit directly, he came home in time for Thanksgiving that year. However, his behavior was not normal.  Walking through a department store one day, he reacted quite violently to a noisy battery-operated toy dog.  “I punched that toy clear across the floor,” said Thomson.  He realized it was an abnormal reaction to “a benign situation.”

Thomson had a heightened sense of awareness, always on alert, conditioned to identify threats. “Imagine if you thought you might always be in danger,” he said. “It was exhausting.”  He was suffering from sensory overload. The worst was when he would sleep and get nightmares that made him violent.

Yet he soldiered on. After leaving active duty in 2013, he joined the Army Reserve while trying to resume civilian life.  He taught fifth grade in Colorado and enjoyed it. 

In 2014 he helped an army buddy in Grinnell recover from surgery.  He found Grinnell to be “so quiet and peaceful” unlike the noise and bustle of the big city. He called his wife Katelyn and said, “I think I found Mayberry.” He moved his family, got a job at Jeld-Wen as group manager, and his wife was hired by Wal-mart.

The year 2016 was a bad year.  A couple of his army buddies committed suicide followed by two more soon thereafter. He said, “It is one thing to lose someone to suicide; it is another to know someone who seemed so strong on the outside yet take his life.”

Thomson reached a breaking point.  He sought help from the Veterans Administration Hospital in Iowa City. Diagnosed with post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD), he was put on medication and underwent treatment like prolonged exposure therapy.  But none of the treatments worked.  His doctor suggested having a service dog.

Thomson’s first service dog was Major, a beautiful Lab. When Major died, he got Sadie, a Red Heeler, also known as Australian Cattle Dog. Trained by the American Kennel Club, Sadie is quite intelligent and knows about 150 words.  A steady companion, Sadie stays with Thomson as long as he is up and wakes him up when he is having a violent nightmare.  Sadie goes wherever Thomson goes, including to his job as owner of Major Home Improvement, LLC., a business he started two years ago. Thomson says that people can tell his mood depending on how Sadie looks.  “If she is laying on the floor, relaxed, then people know I’m having a good day.” Sadie has definitely been a calming influence in Thomson’s life and a welcomed addition to the family.

Thomson and his wife and family are happy in Grinnell. Thomson is taking one day at a time. He enjoys his job and is looking forward when school starts for his three children, all named after US presidents – Jackson, 7; Carter, 4; and Pierce, 2.

Thomson has a message for other Veterans: if you need help, go to the nearest VA.  They’ve done wonders for him and knows they will, too, for any veteran needing help

The Grinnell Rotary Club meets every Tuesday at 6 p.m. at West Side Dining on 6thAve., Grinnell.

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