At DogTime, we love our pups. Some become our family companions, some do important jobs, and some take extra special care of us humans. Service dogs do all of those things and more!
Service dogs are different from pets, therapy animals, and even emotional support animals. They’re trained to provide specific services to persons with disabilities or medical conditions, and they accompany their humans in their day-to-day activities.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Bridget and Eric Schuda. Eric is a Marine Corps veteran and service dog owner. Here’s what they had to say about life with a service dog!
Living With PTSD
AMANDA: Bridget and Eric, thank you for sharing your experience in this interview. Could you please tell us a little bit about what your daily lives are like and how any conditions or disabilities may affect you?
BRIDGET & ERIC: Hi! Thanks so much for taking the time to share our story and how Lady has changed Eric’s life.
We have been married almost six years and are currently expecting our first child. Bridget is a fundraising professional, who works both from home and at our office.
Eric is a personal trainer. We have a studio built into our home, so all of his clients come see him in that studio. Eric served four years in the United States Marine Corps, from 2005 to 2009. Eric suffers from PTSD as a result of his active duty service.
AMANDA: Eric, thank you for your service. Both, congratulations on your soon-to-be addition to the family! Could you please tell us why you decided to get a service dog?
BRIDGET & ERIC: When we got married, Bridget made it clear she did not want a dog. Eric wanted a dog and often joked that he would eventually get one once we had kids.
In early 2019, Eric’s PTSD had taken a turn for the worse. His worst symptom is nightmares, dreaming that he is back in a battlefield in the Middle East.
Due to his fear of nightmares, he would just avoid sleeping. He was beyond exhausted and needed more help.
After a series of medicine changes and intense therapy from the Road Home Program at Rush University, we decided that getting a service dog would help.
AMANDA: I’m so sorry to hear that, and thank you again for your sacrifices, Eric.
Eric And Lady: The Perfect Match
AMANDA: What was the process like once you decided to get a service dog? How did you get started? Did you and the dog have to meet each other first to see if it was a good match?
BRIDGET & ERIC: We looked into a few nonprofits that support veterans in the Chicago area. We were told that there would be a several-month wait, and we were okay with that.
Then, we were introduced to V.E.T. Service Dogs, NFP. They had three dogs that were in training and told us we should come meet them. They did not tell us the names of the K9s as we met them so that it could not deter us.
The first dog we met, we fell in love with. She came out, and we saw some of the support she was trained to offer Eric. She laid at our feet, and we knew she was likely Eric’s newest form of support.
The other two K9s were great; however, Eric didn’t feel the same connection as quickly. So we agreed that the first dog, Lady, would be coming home with us. This was on Saturday. On Monday, we brought her home.
What Does Lady Do?
AMANDA: I’m so glad Lady entered your lives! What does she do to help you?
BRIDGET & ERIC: Because nightmares are Eric’s biggest symptom, Lady is trained to wake Eric if she senses he is having a nightmare. Often, she senses it before Eric is even conscious of the fact he is having a nightmare. He will wake up in the morning and say, “Lady woke me last night.” Often, I know why, but he wasn’t aware of it.
Sometimes, there are some things throughout Eric’s day-to-day life that trigger him, or he just needs extra support. Lady can sense when he is off, and she will put herself in his lap and lick his face and calm him down if he needs it.
Service Dog & Family Pooch
AMANDA: I’m glad Lady is able to provide that kind of support for Eric. What is Lady’s personality like? Is she more “professional” or more of a loving family member — or both? Bridget, are you close to Lady, too? What’s your relationship like with her?
BRIDGET & ERIC: Lady is the best dog we ever could have asked for. When her vest goes on and she knows she is working and will be out in public, she becomes incredibly professional and attentive to Eric.
If we are home, she is never out of earshot of Eric, but she will run around and play with her tennis balls. She is so smart and loves to test us.
She knows the only place she doesn’t go with Eric is when he goes to the gym to weight-lift. We worry about her being around heavy weights and making sure she is safe, so she stays home.
Eric sits in the same place to put his gym shoes on every day, and as he puts on one shoe, Lady grabs the other one and moves it out of reach so he cannot go to the gym. It happens almost daily, and she is so proud of herself that she tries to stop him.
Since, I never wanted a dog, I was a little worried about how it would be having one in the house. However, because Eric is Lady’s person, I don’t have to do much to take care of her.
She actually won’t allow it – I try to let her out in the morning if Eric is sleeping in, and she won’t go. If I get up first in the morning, she will get up with me, but she won’t go down the stairs until Eric goes down. However, if I am working late and am not home, she waits for me at the garage door until I get home and we can both go to bed.
Lady is VERY loving and incredibly protective of both Eric and Bridget.
Thinking Of Getting A Service Dog Like Lady?
AMANDA: Lady sounds like a very special girl! What breed is she? Do you think that breed makes particularly good service dogs?
BRIDGET & ERIC: Lady is a German Shepherd. Because they are so smart, we think they make great service dogs.
AMANDA: Do you have any advice for anyone who may be considering getting a service dog?
BRIDGET & ERIC: When Eric got Lady, the work wasn’t over; he spent almost ten months going to weekly trainings with Lady so they could learn each other. Even now, after 18 months, he still has to be training her constantly.
She goes everywhere with him, so he has to be alert, not just to himself, but to her too. Find a great nonprofit that will support you through the whole process. It takes effort and time, but it is so worth it.
AMANDA: What do you wish people knew about service dogs?
BRIDGET & ERIC: Service dogs are not just like every other dog. They have had extensive training and are serving a purpose.
Just because you may not be able to see the service they are providing or see their handler’s disability, it does not mean it does not exist.
AMANDA: That’s great advice about service dogs and about disabilities in general! Thanks so much, Bridget and Eric, for sharing your story about Lady with us. We wish you, and your upcoming family addition, all the happiness in the world!
To learn more about V.E.T. Service Dogs, NFP, please visit their website.
Do you rely on a service dog to help you through the day? What advice do you have for someone considering getting a service dog? Let us know in the comments below!