Bud and Service Dog AJ

While serving in a Marine battalion at the “Tip of the Spear’ in Vietnam, Bud’s medical skills were equal only to his loyalty towards his fellow soldiers in the jungle. The recipient of two bronze stars and numerous other military decorations, Bud tried to reassemble his life upon his return to civilian life at the end of the 1960’s. But three divorces later and a slow descent into a world of night terrors and isolation, Bud was determined not to let this ultimate war within him be lost. Although he made some substantial progress thanks to his determination and companionship of two beloved canines, life dealt him a low blow when his dog of 15 years died and he was left alone again. The night terrors returned and his desire to go out dwindled until he rarely went out at all. Bud knew he needed to get out- an avid sailor, he loved to go out on his boat into the beautiful waters of Manasota Bay, but it just didn’t hold the joy that it once did now that he was alone again. Depression, nightmares, isolation, hyper-vigilance …they all knocked on his door once again. And this was a door that Bud did not want to answer. He had a daughter and two young granddaughters whom he adored and he wanted to continue to grow with them – and not move backwards as it seemed he would do now.

Until the day that a beautiful, snow-white Labrador retriever named A.J. came knocking at his door. And, on that beautiful day, with his daughter and granddaughters standing round, Bud opened that door and his heart to this young lab and he knew, from that point on, he would be moving only forward- and not alone anymore.

A.J., a precocious girl full of life and spirit and energy and a wagging tail that never quit, was ready for Bud- and thank goodness, because her new handler had plans. Walks on the beach, a ride in his fishing boat out on the bay, bike rides, walks in the park, and all the routine chores that Bud had, bit by bit, allowed to fall by the wayside. Not anymore. And visits with his grandchildren – in their home­ lunch out, even! Bud couldn’t wait.

And, after all the activity of A.J. and her arrival into his life, after only 4 days, Bud slept through the night- the entire night – no nightmares or terrors –just sleep …for the first time in many years. Indeed, this was just the beginning of many firsts to be experienced by Bud and his new First Mate, A.J. “My house feels like a home again,” said Bud. And he is certain, by the sweet, hand drawn pictures on his refrigerator that say “Welcome home, A.J.!”, that his granddaughters would agree.

Images and biography courtesy of Southeastern Guide Dogs