For U.S. Army veteran Christian Cetina, a furry friend named Gus is serving as a beacon of hope for a better way of life.
Struggling with debilitating Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after two tours in Afghanistan as an infantryman with the army, Cetina and his wife, Camille, were searching for help when they came across the website of K9s for Warriors and immediately knew they had found something very special - hope.
“It was sort of a mutual feeling like, I think this is the answer. It just felt right,” he said.
For years Cetina has dealt with symptoms of PTSD that have turned his life upside down. He was so overwhelmed he had to drop out of school, quit driving and quit working. He struggled with being out in public.
At K9s for Warriors he found a non-profit organization dedicated to providing veterans who have been diagnosed with disabling PTSD, traumatic brain injury or military sexual trauma with service dogs trained to help them deal with stressful situations and move forward with their lives. The dogs and all training are provided free of charge.
After a lengthy application process that included obtaining letters from his doctors and mental health doctors and providing extensive information about his life and struggles he was approved to receive a service dog from the program. In July he traveled to the group’s training center where he was united with Gus and spent three weeks learning how to interact with his new friend.
After all the months of waiting the moment he met Gus is one he will never forget.
“I just cried. He jumped on me and he licked me all over,” he said.
During the three weeks of training he and Gus bonded as trainers who had already spent more than three months training the dog taught them how to work together. They traveled to malls, the beach, a public park and other locations to experience facing the real world as a team.
Cetina said he was inspired by the experiences of his trainer who has a K9s for Warriors service dog himself and has been through the same struggles.
“I saw how he is living with it and being able to move forward. It was inspirational to me to know I could get to that place," he said.
Since returning home the change in his life has been dramatic.
“It’s a huge difference,” said Camille. “ He has his life back.”
She said it’s clear how Gus helps her husband stay calm in difficult situations and will react to his moods and let him know what he needs to do before he even realizes he may be struggling.
“It makes it easier to see when he needs to take a break and take breath before he gets overwhelmed,” she said.
Christian said as a soldier you’re taught to be strong and never ask for help, but he would encourage any servicemember in his situation to reach and out and see if the K9s for Warriors program is right for them.
“It’s tough. We’re taught that we’re army guys. We’re taught that you don’t express your feelings, you just keep them in and move forward. That’s what we’re trained to do,” he said.
“We’re taught to be strong, keep your head down and move forward, but we’re also taught to ask for a medic when we need one. Right now, for me, this is my medic. Gus, he’s my medic,” he said.
To find out more about K9s for Warriors, including how to donate to help them help America’s warriors, visit www.k9sforwarriors.org.