Orbit Brought Me Back to Life

 Orbit preforming “lap” to provide deep pressure therapy in a moment of need. .
Orbit preforming “lap” to provide deep pressure therapy in a moment of need. .

“I am a combat veteran with chronic PTSD and I have secondary progressive multiple sclerosis (SPMS). My brain and spinal cord have dozens of areas of damage that affect all aspects of my daily life. 

TLCAD matched Orbit and me about one year ago and my life is forever changed for the better. Orbit was custom trained for me both as a PTSD service dog and a mobility service dog. What differentiates service dogs from emotional support dogs and therapy dogs are that they are trained specific tasks to assist the dog’s handler. While Orbit provides a lot of comfort by being my companion 24/7, Orbit goes beyond that by being able to perform cues that help me in specific situations. Because of my brain injuries and PTSD, I often can become overwhelmed by information or incoming stimuli. The source could be anything from being in a store with fluorescent lights and crowds, to waiting for a medical appointment with random sounds and movements of people walking about, to leaf blowers and traffic noise.

Orbit helps me stay focused and calm in a myriad of ways, from laying his head on my feet (cue, “feet”), resting his chin in my lap (cue, “chin”) to bringing his legs up on my lap and resting his head on my lap (cue, “lap”). These specific cues are a form of deep pressure therapy (DPT), this type of therapy has a very calming effect similar to being covered by a weighted blanket. It immediately makes me feel calm, softens my anxiety, reduces my heart rate, lowers my blood pressure, and helps me focus on the task at hand. It’s quite amazing, I would have never guessed DPT would be so effective until I started using it every day.

I often can become overwhelmed while standing in lines, e.g., at the grocery store. In this instance, I cue him to sit at my right (cue, “side”) or my left (cue, “heel”) then cue him to lean his head against my leg (cue, “lean). This is so very helpful! Not only does it help me feel comfortable, but while we are in line Orbit and I look into each other’s eyes, which has been scientifically shown to produce oxytocin, the stress-reducing bonding hormone, in both the handler and the dog. Now I actually enjoy standing in line.

Another symptom, which worsens as each day progresses, presents as severely reduced cognitive ability and vertigo. Having Orbit as my side 24/7 helps my brain stay engaged and “awake.” If I feel unsteady when I stand, I can cue Orbit, “brace,” and he braces his body so that I can steady myself on his shoulders or hips. Since I have an injured brain, one of the benefits of having Orbit is that I have had to force my brain to multi-task, something that is very difficult for me. Because of neuroplasticity, the more one performs a task, the brain may have the ability to re-wire connections to successfully perform that task. Having to learn a multitude of cues so that I can take Orbit everywhere with me, learning how to reward and shape Orbit’s behavior, and even the timing of working with Orbit and his cues has been very beneficial to my brain and well-being. 

My PTSD is chronic as I suffer from complex trauma. I have good days and bad days. While I will probably not be able to discontinue all of my medications, with the supervision of my psychiatrist, I have been able to reduce the dose of some of them over the course of the year. There is no cure for MS. My MS is progressive and that fact can cause a lot of stress for me. Orbit has been, literally, a life saver to me. My sense of HOPE and JOY has grown exponentially—even knowing that I may have a life of continued mobility losses. Do you know how good that feels? VERY! :) In addition, TLCAD provides outstanding continued support of Orbit and me. My balance has become more of an issue and TLCAD is currently assisting me with the next step of obtaining a balance harness for Orbit to help support me. While there is no cure for MS, I still have hope because I have Orbit. I know as a team we can not only survive, but THRIVE. It’s amazing to wake every day looking forward to embracing the day ahead, no matter what my future may hold. Thank you, TLCAD, for giving me my life back.” Lorilei, Orbits recipient.