Service Dog Aids Soldier's PTSD Recovery
Sgt. Jason Wideman first noticed the signs of PTSD after returning from a 15-month stint in Afghanistan several years ago, and is now working with Alaska Assistance Dogs on his road to recovery.
Scotty is just two years old, but he already knows more than most golden retrievers twice his age.
He knows the usual - sit, stay, lie down - but Scotty is also trained to retrieve almost anything from anywhere, follow his handler calmly in any situation and obey a whole laundry list of other cues.
“We’re supposed to know 50 to 60 commands,” said Sgt. Jason Wideman, Scotty’s handler.
His training includes trips to local malls and parks to socialize with people and other dogs, agility drills and exposure to a wide variety of different situations, all to make him a perfect match for his new owner.
Scotty is no ordinary family pet, though.
He’s a service dog, and he’s preparing to accompany Wideman back to Fort Wainwright in Fairbanks.
Wideman suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, and met Scotty through local non-profit Alaska Assistance Dogs.
“We have people that are just on a waiting list, waiting to just be able to have a day with the dogs for our therapeutic service dog groups,” said April Merchant, a trainer with AAD who worked to place Scotty with Wideman.
“It’s an instant, instant reaction. Non-medicated…you just get your life back,” she continued.
Wideman first noticed the signs of PTSD after returning from a 15-month stint in Afghanistan several years ago.
“I’d have nightmares on average five times a week, to where I don’t remember them anymore,” Wideman said. “I get irritable over a lot of little things, and it’s not fair to my kids and it’s not fair to my wife.”
After trying medications and therapy, doctors eventually recommended a service dog.
“You know people lock themselves in their house for months at a time and won’t come out,” Wideman said. “That’s not the kind of life I would want to live, and if a dog can make that change, then that’s just amazing.”
Wideman traveled to Anchorage earlier this year to begin the search, and said he and Scotty connected instantly. He said the dog makes him feel calmer, reassures him.
“It’s a lifelong commitment,” Wideman says. “Learning something new every day with him is just going to be amazing, from teaching him new commands to just knowing that he’s got my back.”
As Wideman prepares to return to Fairbanks and finish out his military career, he said he’s still worried about how his fellow servicemen and women will view his new dog.
“I’m unsure of how it’s going to be big picture—how people are going to perceive, you know, why do you need a dog? What’s wrong with you? You know, that kind of thing,” Wideman said.
“I’m nervous and anxious about that as well.”
With Scotty by his side though, Wideman said he knows one thing for sure.
“I’ve got a partner for 24/7.”