Stronger Together | Team Stark

Jun 28, 2024

August 2024 will be my 6th year of partnership with PADS PTSD dog Stark. To help me write an update of how far I have come, I went all the way back to October 2018 and my graduation speech at PADS. What stood out for me was a list of things I wanted Stark to bring into my life. For many years I had been avoiding public interaction and hid from the world. The biggest takeaway was that I wanted Stark to bring me back into the world. Secretly I wished that Stark would help me want to live.
A beautiful update happened in 2022 when our Documentary “In A New Light” was released at the Whistler Film Festival. It documented the journey of my first two years with Stark and how easeful, grounded and safe I was already beginning to feel. In that first 2 years I had slowly integrated back into the world and slowly reconnected to activities, hobbies, friends and family. It helped that Stark is a calm laid back old soul with low energy as I needed that to feel safe and supported. A dog with high energy would not have suited me at all. Stark was my anchor that grounded and distracted me when I was dissociating or having a panic attack. Stark blocked and shielded me in public when I felt confined or closed in. He would physically place himself between me and my perceived threat. At night Stark’s pressure and “gentle” snoring calmed and helped regulate my sleep pattern. His physical presence in my bed took away my night terrors. The fact that I could reach out at any time and feel and hear his heartbeat provided me that tactile stimulation I needed to be present and in the moment.
2022 to 2024 was a period of tremendous growth for me. I continued two sessions a week of therapy, my medication lowered from four medications to just one, and I engaged in physical activity. Without knowing how it happened, I began to do more and engage more. Suddenly I wanted to run, jump, laugh, play! Having a service dog who dislikes physical activity, I learned to be independent again by leaving Stark at home for short periods of rest, while I engaged in my activities. Silently he was still providing me with vital support. His constant presence in every facet of my life allowed me to begin trusting that people would be able to do the same. I was finally breaking out of the constant PTSD fog, which allowed me to view myself honestly. I saw with clarity that my illness had presented itself in some hurtful and detrimental behaviours. I had alienated some people in my life including my son and close friends. I confronted my fears and have been able to apologize and ask for forgiveness. Together, Stark and I have also been able to pay it forward by volunteering weekly and speaking about PTSD and PADS.
6 years of partnership in dog years is a lot. My beautiful, handsome and stately Stark has slowed down considerably and he prefers strolling rather than running. He naps more frequently and he loves when I leave him at home with a trusted companion than having to tag along on my silly (his words) adventures. He is still a gorgeous sheen of stark velvety black but if you gently lift his chin you can see the silver hairs. I say silver because a dog this special does not go grey. Stark now has arthritic hips and requires monthly injections to help ease this stage of aging. Seeing a chiropractor will be part of his self care routine.
In our 6th year with PADS we were so fortunate to be able to participate in the very first PADS PTSD retreat at Honour Ranch in Ashcroft this April. What a beautiful opportunity—in a gorgeous setting—to meet and connect with other PADS PTSD teams and participate in team building wellness activities for both clients and dogs. There is no greater proof or testament to how valuable the PTSD program is than to see how other clients lives have transformed. I would really love to see this be a regular part of the PADS PTSD program.

At some point in time and I would not even be able to pin point that moment, I began believing that I am the person Stark thinks I am. The secret wish I had came true! This summer approaching 60, it’s the first birthday I’ve looked forward to— plan to celebrate with the people I love and balloons and cake! I see myself as deserving of love and affection and all the wonderful things life has to offer. I am so healthy and dare I say happy that my psychiatrist believes she can safely retire (ha ha).

While I am a person who will always have PTSD, I am capable of living a happy, fulfilling and healthy life.
In December of this year Stark will be turning 10. There have been gentle, prescient talks about his eventual retirement. Many tears have been shed that this precious soul will not be my forever companion. Stark doesn’t know this but I have decided that I will be HIS forever companion.
My heartfelt gratitude always to PADS for giving me the gift of Stark.