After the Heroes Breakfast, we made

plans with Morgan to meet again with his family at their home. We wanted to know more about what life was like for everyone, before and after Foley. Suddenly, the world was facing a

pandemic. Self-isolation halted our plans to meet, so we arranged for a Zoom interview and photo session. Finally, on a Sunday morn- ing in May, we faced each other through our computer screens and spoke with Morgan, his wife Amber and their two sons, 15-year-old Jonathan and 13-year-old Jaime. Our photo shoot was after the interview, again through Zoom and the gentle expertise of Foto Bohemia’s husband and wife team, Jessie and Pavel Stehlik.

Morgan was still a civilian pilot when

Amber began working for Southeastern Guide Dogs (SEGD). She fell in love with the organization, their mission, the culture, and of course the dogs. Morgan’s career as a pilot ended after Amber’s first year at SEGD. Shortly thereafter, he was diagnosed

with Delayed-Onset PTSD, a form of PTSD that doesn’t immediately present itself. “While we were dealing with

Morgan’s illness at home, I was listening to firsthand stories from the veterans who were seeking help through Southeastern Guide Dogs,” said Amber. “It was a huge learning process for me, both profession- ally and personally. I began to understand some of my own misconceptions and realized the stigma I had about PTSD.” SOMETIMES, IT’S THE SIMPLEST

GESTURE FROM A SERVICE DOGTHAT PROVIDES THE MOST COMFORT. Amber recognized the similarities between the veterans at SEGD and what Morgan was going through at home. For years, Morgan spoke to her about his nightmares and how disruptive they were to his sleep. “I would hear over and over how

the service dogs were helping these indi- viduals. They spoke about being able to finally, for the first time in years, get a full night’s sleep, just knowing their service dog was close by,” said Amber, choking back tears as Morgan and the boys looked over at her. “This seemingly simple thing was life-changing for these veterans.”

ONE FOOT IN FRONT OFTHE OTHER. Amber remembered a meeting with her co-worker at SEGD. “She was in charge of the admission process. I wanted to talk to her before mentioning it to Morgan.” Amber’s concern was whether or not

Morgan would be a good candidate for the SEGD program. “I didn’t want to start encouraging Morgan if he wasn’t going to qualify for a dog,” added Amber. “When I walked into her office, I think I was maybe able to get two words out before I burst into tears. But, she was very compassionate and ultimately encour- aged me to encourage Morgan to apply.”

Foley brought back a part of Morgan

that I thought was gone.

Amber Watt Amber brought up the subject dur- ”

ing a session with the couple’s therapist. “I really wanted to have a facilitator in on the discussion,” said Amber. “When I began volunteering at

SEGD, I immediately found a sense of coming home,” said Morgan. “During my Air Force experience, I worked with explosive detection dogs, and had always relied on them for my life. I realized I was having the same feelings from working with the dogs at SEGD. It just seemed like a natural to incorporate a dog back into my life; to rely on a dog’s intuition about whatever situation I would find myself in.” Morgan knew the partnership would

be different from his career with explo- sive detection dogs. “The service dog, unlike the military K-9, would be focused on me rather than the mission.” Denial was still a big obstacle stand-

ing in Morgan’s way of asking for help and receiving treatment. He wasn’t ready to accept the labels and everything that came along with a diagnosis of PTSD. Add to that his feelings of guilt - that he

wasn’t deserving of a service dog. Thinking that someone else is more

deserving of a service dog is common, especially among veterans going through the application process at SEGD. “I didn’t want to take away a dog

from somebody else who was also strug- gling,” said Morgan, who wouldn’t admit that he was struggling. “I didn’t see it in myself as clearly as I do now.” Morgan eventually came around to

the idea of partnering with a service dog, especially after seeing how the dogs were helping others. “The responsibility Morgan had

working with the dogs at SEGD as a volunteer didn’t add to his stress level, but lowered it,” said Amber. “I watched how he was benefiting from the interaction with the dogs.” He also realized the predicament he

was in. “Going down the road of therapy and medication, it was fine,” said Morgan, shrugging his shoulders. “But I still had feelings of isolation. There was a sense of connection that was missing from my life.” It was as if a weight had been lifted

off Morgan’s shoulders after he finally asked for help. He and Amber could now be honest about the challenges they were dealing with. And, because of that, they both realized they weren’t alone in struggling with the impacts of PTSD, anxiety and depression. “It took a lot of courage to ask for

help and applying for a service dog was a very brave move,” said Amber of Morgan. THE HOMECOMING. The day they brought Foley home

for the first time, Morgan recalls, “I just felt like he was the glue that brought us all together as a family, again.” The kids don’t remember too much

about their first encounter with Foley. “They were much younger. Jaime

was in second grade and Jonathan was in the fourth grade,” said Amber, who remembers how well the trainer incorpo- rated Jaime and Jonathan in the training process with Foley. “They weren’t allowed to interact

with him for the first 30 days. That was hard for them,” said Amber. “How do you ask two young boys to not love on an adorable dog who has come to live with them?”

Continued on the following pageg THE NEW BARKER 45

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