Monday, 17 December 2018
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Bill White: Troubled veterans are paired with service dogs. ‘This guy’s my world’

Harold Siegfried was volunteering at ArtsQuest’s Christkindlmarkt two years ago, accompanied by his service dog, Phelan.

Siegfried and Phelan were brought together by Tails of Valor, Paws of Honor, a nonprofit program that trains service dogs to interact with and become companions for veterans who are struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injuries and physical disabilities.

All the dogs, rescued from area animal shelters as puppies and trained for on average 18 months, are named for military personnel who were killed in action or who committed suicide after returning home. Phelan was named for Lt. Col. Mark Phelan, who was killed in 2004 by a car bomb in Iraq.

A man who was visiting from East Norriton, Montgomery County, approached Siegfried that day and asked about his dog, a black Lab mix. Siegfried began telling him about the program and that each dog was named for a fallen serviceman or servicewoman.

The strength of his connection with Phelan is striking. He described instances where Phelan has interrupted nightmares, intervened to prevent stressful situations and provided the support he needed to help him reconnect with people, including Lloyd and Armstrong, who have become close friends.

Whatever happens, he knows his dog has his back.

“This guy’s my world,” he said.

Mind you, he said, Phelan isn’t perfect. The dog was struggling with his training until he hooked up with Siegfried.

“He’s hard-headed,” he said. “He’s a perfect fit for me.”

And as much as Siegfried’s opened up over the last couple of years, he still finds dark thoughts threatening to overcome him, particularly when he’s struggling to sleep.

But there’s a big difference.

“Now with him,” he said, “the first thing that pops in my mind, if I take my own life, what’s it going to do to him?”

Bill White’s commentary appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays., 610-820-6105


The Bark Box

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