Emotional Support Dog Helps His Mom Live & Stay Hopeful: Meet Trauma Survivor Jamie & Her Dog Rufus

Jamie and Rufus

(Picture Credit: Jamie Lee Ferrar)

Jamie Lee Farrar is an incredible survivor with a big heart and a love for animals. She has a very special relationship with her dog, Rufus.

What began as a suggestion from her therapist to find a service dog has turned into a strong bond between Jamie and her emotional support animal, extra credit service dog, and, most importantly, best friend.

Jamie was born with cerebral palsy, a condition that was worsened in childhood because of an incident that left her cut off from oxygen for a long period of time. Later in life, an accident with a semi-truck left her with severe injuries. Rufus has not only helped Jamie with her physical needs; he’s also been a source of comfort and emotional support.

I wanted to learn more about Jamie and Rufus’s story and, hopefully, give some inspiration to people who might be thinking about bringing home a dog to use as a service or emotional support animal.

The Doctor Says, ‘Get A Dog’

AMANDA: Jamie, thank you so much for sharing your story with us. What first made you think to get a dog? How did Rufus first come into your life?

JAMIE: You’re welcome! My primary care physician and my psychologist told me that getting a dog would help lower my blood pressure, which was very high due to anxiety. My psychologist also said it would help with my PTSD.

AMANDA: I’m so sorry you’ve had these struggles. Would you mind telling us a little more about your background?

JAMIE: I’d been diagnosed with PTSD in 2008, due to childhood traumas, especially from an incident with my dentist at age six. I was born with cerebral palsy, and being cut off from oxygen at the dentist’s office for a prolonged period of time added to the brain injury and made my difficulties worse. It caused my stutter, and it caused me to be in a wheelchair.

I went from being a very trusting, loving child to a person who became very afraid of everything and everyone for a very long period of time.

Then, when my father passed away in 2009, I lost myself for quite a long time. That’s specifically when my therapist recommended getting a service dog.

AMANDA: I’m so sorry you had to go through all of that.

JAMIE: Thank you very much. So the PTSD and anxiety were one aspect that made me want to get a dog.

On a personal note, there had been a lot of break-ins at my apartment building, and it made me feel safer to have a dog. Also, I had always grown up with dogs and cats, and I loved them. All of these things combined made me want to rescue a dog — I didn’t want to just go to a pet store.

Love At First Sight! Rufus Is A True Sweetheart

 

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AMANDA: Where did you go to find a dog?

JAMIE: In June 2012, I chose the Nevada SPCA because it’s a no-kill shelter near where I live. The expense of a fully trained service dog, as well as how daunting it would be to train one, made me decide to get a dog as a friend, not a service dog.

AMANDA: And how did you meet Rufus?

JAMIE: Believe it or not, Rufus was the last dog they brought out to meet me. They were kind of looking at me questioningly that I’d even want a dog, being in a wheelchair as I was. Maybe they wondered if I was up to the responsibility.

Originally, I’d wanted a female dog, because I’d heard these rumors and speculations that male dogs mark their place with pee everywhere. But the female dogs they had at the SPCA were all very jumpy and hyper, and one actually bit. I wasn’t looking for a dog that would jump all over the place; I was looking for a laid-back dog.

As I was wheeling out of the place, something dawned on one of the staff members, and he said, “Wait, we just got a dog in back — let me go get him.”

Rufus had no history at all. All we knew was he’d been adopted twice and returned twice to a kill shelter. I have no idea why, because he is a total sweetheart.

I wheeled up to him, and he didn’t jump on me. All I said was “Rufus, sit.” Not only did he sit, but he laid his head on my leg, which is something he still loves to do.

I started petting him, and I looked in his eyes, and it was love at first sight. I said, “I’ll be taking this dog.”

They said, “We know nothing about him, except that he’s a sweetheart.” I said, “That’s okay; I want him.” And getting Rufus was the best decision I ever made.

AMANDA: That is beautiful. You saved each other.

JAMIE: We did. I actually suspect Rufus has some training as a service dog, because he acts that way, without my having taught him any of that, myself. As we were wheeling out — my friend had brought me — he slowed down to match my pace in the wheelchair, without even being taught. He’s also very good at reading cues and stopping panic attacks.

Rufus To The Rescue

AMANDA: How does Rufus help you?

JAMIE: He stops panic attacks by reading my signals. If my body language changes, he’ll come up and read the room It sounds so funny to say a dog is reading the room, but that’s truly what he does. You can see him ask himself, “Is she freaking out because there’s someone at the door? Or is it a bad flashback?” etc.

He’ll come and lay his head directly on my leg, and he’ll start licking me, or he’ll bop me with his nose to get me to stop having a panic attack. Most of the time, it works!

AMANDA: Aww, that is so sweet. Are there other special things he does for you, too?

JAMIE: Even my mom, who doesn’t have any issues besides her multiple sclerosis, has really noticed how special and unique of a dog he is.

Physically, when he was younger, whenever I would transfer, he’d be by my side in seconds to brace me.

Keep in mind, I didn’t teach him any of this. It’s just us learning each other.

If I’m in the bathroom for what he thinks is too long, he’ll bark. If I don’t tell him I’m OK, he’ll keep barking, until he knows I’m safe.

AMANDA: He does sound very special! What kind of dog is he, do you know?

JAMIE: Rufus is a German ShephardMastiff mix. He’s a big dog. In fact, when I got him and I was in that tiny apartment, my mom asked, “Jamie, why did you get a horse?” But once she saw how he was with me, she understood. He loves on everyone; he’s a really sweet dog.

The Semi-Truck Accident

AMANDA: How old is Rufus now, and how has your relationship changed over time?

JAMIE: He’s twelve years old. Rufus has become even more important to me, especially after another huge trauma, on January 3, 2013. I was crossing the street to go to CVS to pick up my prescriptions and to get Rufus a tennis ball to play with.

I made it halfway through the crosswalk. A semi-truck did not see my chair and ran me over, dragging me, and my wheelchair along with it, for 69 very painful feet.

I never lost consciousness. I have burns on my knuckles from holding onto my wheelchair, and I had to let go of it. And I could see and feel these injuries happening. I wish I’d been knocked out and didn’t have these memories, but I wasn’t.

A retired police officer, Lieutenant Randy Sutton, saw what happened, turned his car around, stopped traffic, stopped my bleeding, kept me conscious, and called 9-1-1 to get me medical attention. He was a hero, and he’s become a lifelong dear friend.

The first thought in my head as all these things were happening was, “I’m going to die.” I was 25 years old. I’d just gotten into college. After thinking about my family, I thought, “I just got this beautiful dog, and he’s not going to have anyone anymore.”

I had a wonderful neighbor whom I called from the ambulance. I said, “I think I’m going to die. If that happens, please take care of my mom, and give Rufus to my mom.”

The Aftermath: Rufus Visits And Brings All The Love

AMANDA: I’m speechless. You’re a true miracle survivor. If it’s not too painful for you to relive–what happened next?

JAMIE: It’s not anymore; thank you for asking. The effects of the accident were pretty devastating. I have burns on my chest, face, and hands. Part of my head and chest are deformed. The right side of my teeth were knocked out, and I had broken ribs.

My leg was broken so badly that the orthopedic surgeon said to perform surgery on it would completely paralyze it, instead of the partial paralysis it already had.

I spent about six months in the hospital and about a year and half on my back. I have burns on my lower left chest, all the way from the entire left side of my chest is deformed, upper neck to lower chest. It was a nightmare to live through.

AMANDA: I can’t even imagine. How long did you have to be apart from Rufus?

JAMIE: I wasn’t able to see Rufus for the first three to four months till I got to the second rehab facility. After the initial fighting for my life, I begged to see Rufus. My mom had the paperwork to show he was an emotional support dog already from my therapist and doctor. I saw him in February or March of 2014.

By the time I’d gotten to the second rehab facility and had the second surgery, I was kind of afraid of how he was going to respond. I didn’t know if he was going to recognize me or if he thought I’d abandoned him. I was nervous he might jump on my fresh wounds.

But when this sweetheart of a dog saw me for the first time, he got all excited. I was able to get up in my chair — someone helped me transfer — and I saw Rufus coming down the hall. He doesn’t have a service dog harness on him, so he was raising some eyebrows.

My mom held him. He came to me, and I petted him. When he looked at my leg, he whined. I said, “It’s okay, sweetheart. I’m okay.”

He couldn’t put his head on my leg because it was cast, which made him whine more. He couldn’t perform his comfort function, which made him sad. So he just laid down on the floor, right by me.

Two or three times a week, my mom would take him to the dog park and take him to me. He would just lie down next to me.

Rufus Steps Up Even More At Home

AMANDA: What was it like with Rufus once you were finally able to go home?

JAMIE: When I got out of the hospital, his work increased a lot more. I needed him to be there for transfers. I was much slower at everything than before, and he just adjusted.

The flashbacks were brutal and vivid. He always slept by the door of the apartment. He started waking me up in the middle of the night if I had a nightmare. I never taught him to do that. He would bark.

He started picking up on the new visual cues that my body was giving off, that I wasn’t even aware I was giving him, both at night and during the day. He’s been a great support.

He was also a great support after my best friend, Sasha, passed away while I was healing. He gave me a reason to get up. I couldn’t stay in bed; I had to feed Rufus, I had to play with him.

He helped me not feel bad for myself for too long because I had things I had to take care of — like him. He grounded me.

It was too hard for me to walk Rufus after my accident, so my neighbor offered to help as long as he was able. Unfortunately, my neighbor started to have difficulty walking, himself, so in 2018, my mom offered for Rufus to move in with her.

I was devastated to part with him, but I was relieved he was going into a loving home where I could see him whenever I wanted.

AMANDA: I’m so glad that worked out with your mom. That was very nice of her.

JAMIE: It was, and actually, I, too, moved in with her, once COVID-19 hit. It’s been wonderful being reunited with Rufus. He sleeps with me every night, and he still picks up on my cues.

It’s been great to have all this time with him. He’s a fighter and a good boy.

As A Senior, Rufus Is Still Full Of Love

AMANDA: How is Rufus doing today?

JAMIE: He’s twelve years old now, and he’s definitely showing some signs of aging, but he’s not in any pain, so he’s still his happy self. He’s more than my dog; he’s like my son. I’ve loved a lot of dogs in my life, but Rufus takes the cake on all of that.

He’s like an angel in fur. He knew what I needed at the time, and he’s given it to me every single day for nine years.

He’s just been a sweet and gentle little love.

AMANDA: Jamie, this is such a beautiful story. I’m so impressed by all you’ve overcome. How do you stay so positive?

JAMIE: It’s all about perspective. I am human; I do have days when anxiety flares or when I wish things were different. I’m very lucky and blessed to be surrounded by true friends and loving family.

If any of these things never happened, I wouldn’t have any of that. I believe things happen for a reason. If these things didn’t happen, I wouldn’t be who I am.

AMANDA: That’s a terrific perspective. Thank you so much for sharing your story with us, especially your beautiful relationship with Rufus. No wonder you love him so much. We really appreciate your time and openness in sharing. I think others will learn and benefit from your experience.

JAMIE: That is what I hope for! I’m happy to share. Thanks for the opportunity!

  • To read more about Jamie and Rufus, please watch for her forthcoming memoir, Roll On.
  • To learn more about the Nevada SPCA, please visit their website.

What do you think of Jamie and Rufus’s story? Has your dog helped you through hard times? Let us know in the comments below!