Thursday, 25 May 2023
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Alliance veteran finds PTSD help from service dog

Alliance resident Jeff Day believes getting his service dog, named Cooper, was meant to be.

Both were born on the Fourth of July, and the Vietnam veteran has been training with the service dog to help with the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that resulted from his service in the Navy.

Now vested for public access, Cooper has changed Day’s life.

Battle scars

Day said the PTSD stems from three separate incidents when his ships got hit during his time in the service.

“We were involved in a battle group and the aircraft carrier turned the wrong way in the middle of a night operation and it tore the superstructure right off the top of the ship,” he said of the first incident. “It killed eight guys, and we fought fire all night long to save the ship from sinking.”

The following year, he said he was doing night operations on a ship in the Black Sea when it was hit head-on by a destroyer.

“This isn’t like a car wreck; these are thousands of tons of iron hitting each other, and it’s a very long-lasting thing and you have that collapsing around you, water and fire, and it knocked me out,” he said, explaining that it rekindled what had happened a year earlier.

A year or two later, Day said he found himself on neutral duty on a ship that doesn’t usually leave port, but when they took a trip to Mississippi, they were hit by a Libyan oil tanker. “It just grounded both ships and closed off the Mississippi River for three days,” he recalled.

After these traumatic experiences, Day said he lived more than 40 years with his family before the PTSD surfaced. He said it has caused real issues in recent years.

Because of it, he began to have anxiety that kept him from going out in public, making him very isolated.

“It got to a point where if I felt uncomfortable, I just didn’t do it. We would do things that I felt somewhat comfortable with when I’m around friends and family, but I didn’t want to go out in public because you have a sense which the PTSD does that your mind is just constantly on all the stuff that’s aroused that in the first place,” he said. “And you can talk to people all you want, but that doesn’t do it.”

Day’s wife, Beth, said he ended up overmedicated, which made things worse. So did losing a beloved pet. “That year that we lost (their dog) Spence was not a good year for him, and that’s the longest we’ve ever gone without an animal,” Beth said.

While he wasn’t a trained service dog, Day said Spence was still a service dog to him, as were all of his previous dogs. “It’s not the medicine, it’s the dogs that have kept me intact,” he said.

Finding help

Day said things got to the point where his doctor stepped in to get him help, which included not only therapy but a prescription for a service dog to help him cope with the disorder.

When he found the waiting list was nearly two years, Day’s doctor began looking at other programs to help. He was introduced to Wags 4 Warriors, an organization near Cleveland founded by another veteran who found the benefits of service dogs and wanted to help others. The nonprofit, which has produced more than 400 vested dogs in an eight-year period, pairs veterans with dogs and provides the training, equipment and support for the dog at no cost to the veteran.

Both Wags 4 Warriors and a similar program called Battle Buddies, based in Cincinnati, tried twice to match Day with dogs, but he turned them down — the first relating to bad timing and the second because he was unsure of the large breed with which they’d paired him. Instead, he found Cooper, a Rhodesian Ridgeback he adopted at 13 weeks old. The pair were accepted into the Wags 4 Warriors program, completed Puppy Kindergarten at Canine University of Ohio in Solon a month early since Cooper was such a quick learner, and began their formal service dog training in early November.

Day said he and Cooper travel to Broadview Heights four times a week for training sessions, and even though they will continue through two more stages of training, Cooper recently earned his vest. He has learned to read Day’s anxiety and block perceived threats to Day or help calm him with a simple touch.

While he acts like any other dog during downtime — chewing up Kong toys or fetching a giant stick — once the vest goes, on Cooper is on alert and ready to do his job. He goes everywhere with Day, and his presence has made Day much more comfortable when he goes out in public.

“When I try to go out into society, I go out with those feelings that are already there.” Day said. “There’s parts of me that, if I didn’t have him, I could get aggressive or angry and not walk away from a situation. With him, all I have to do is look at him or just the fact of his touch almost just erases it; it takes it away. So there’s a real need, and it really does work. He’s by far, of course maybe secondary to Beth, the best medicine that I have.”

Changing Perception

Day said he wants to educate people on what a service dog is and what they can do for those with PTSD. 

He said people often don’t understand how a service dog is different than a therapy animal, emotional support animal or companion animal. They are well-trained, skilled dogs that have to undergo a lot of training and pass many tests. He said it takes a big commitment, and that the training takes time, which causes many people to not complete the program. 

Day said people often don’t understand PTSD or why someone with PTSD might have a service dog. 

“There will be times Cooper and I will be out and people will look at you and say, ‘What kind of disability do you have?’” he said. “All the wounds from war aren’t visible; matter of fact, a lot of them aren’t. I see that, but John Q. Public doesn’t recognize that.”

Day said the mental aspect starts to add up over time and begins to affect physical health.

“It’s not something that you can let go,” Day said. “It’s not a curable thing. It’s a coping thing. And just like this dog is learning, I’ve had to learn, when something comes to mind, how to address it and be able to move past it or move through it.”

Day and Cooper will both continue to learn and work as a team to combat his PTSD as they go through the remainder of the service dog training process. But Day says Cooper has already made a huge difference, not only in helping him go out in public, but waking him from nightmares or when he stops breathing due to a sleep disorder.

“He really was an answer to prayers,” Day said. “We prayed about it a long time and we really had to discuss (getting a dog). It’s like losing a kid. When you lose them and there’s a part of you that says I just can’t do that anymore. But the other part of you says I can’t go on without it.” 

For more information about Wags 4 Warriors, visit, call 330-285-3941 or email


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