Connecting veterans with animal companions to treat PTSD

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COLUMBUS (WCMH) — When Jason Manley left the military after five combat tours from 2002 to 2012, chronic PTSD was devastating his life. 

For the next four years, he struggled with the darkness of his thoughts, bouts of homelessness, and the pain of not feeling like he had a purpose anymore.  

Manley was raised by his grandparents and from an early age the military seemed like a way to find a new family and a place to belong.  

With all of that gone after his retirement from the Army, he was lost. He had become use to having people rely on him because he was responsible for the men under his command.  

“That’s when I first started realizing that being home was actually harder then being at war,” said Manley.  

One day, he decided he wanted to feel needed again, so he decided to adopt a dog. He had no idea the dog he adopted would change his life.  

When he first saw the boxer that he would eventually adopt, Manley says he looked at it and wondered if it could be his friend, if it could be the soldier he was looking for. His intent was to train the dog.  

He ended up naming the dog Abraham Lincoln and the dog would end up being the thing he needed to treat his PTSD.  

“When you have a moment to break out of that and you look down and your best friend is laying on your foot not asking any questions, not requiring any conversation, [it’s] just pure relief,” said Manley.  

For the next several years, Abraham was the joy Manley was missing.  

Manley took Abraham on daily walks and Manley says the dog cared more about the walks than being hungry or thirsty.  

“When you’re living vicariously through your companion animal, through your best friend, you’re able to experience life with innocence in it again,” said Manley. “Innocence is something you lose day one in combat, and it’s not something you can ever get back.”  

It took time, but eventually Manley realized the affect Abraham was having on him.  

“It was able to start a cycle of positive thoughts for me,” said Manley. “Abraham was able to break that thought process. I started to preemptively treat my condition.”  

Then, one day, Abraham started limping. The doctor’s diagnosed him with degenerative myelopathy, a terminal condition, which continued to get worse until Abraham lost all function in his back legs.  

“It got to the point where he needed me to hold him up when he went to the bathroom. He couldn’t walk unless I had his sling holding him up,” said Manley.  

Manley wouldn’t give up on Abraham.

“It didn’t matter how many times I had to hold him up, or pick him up, or carry him, or how many doctor’s offices we had to go to,” said Manley. “I just wanted to give him one more day.”  

He began taking Manley on visits to veterans like himself, to show them how helpful Abraham had been for him and how dogs can be beneficial to veterans.  

Manley is currently the president of Veteran Companion Animal Services. He is working to connect other veterans with companion animals like Abraham so they can experience the things he has and potentially save lives.  

He hopes people in the community will commit to doing something about veteran suicide by talking to the veterans in their lives and getting involved with organizations like his and the many others trying to help troops in need.  

“Your local veterans charities are going to be the thing that makes the difference in the 22 suicides a day for veterans,” said Manley. 

Earlier this year, Manley had to say goodbye to Abraham.

“Any time that I would start to go into a dark place and my body would start to react, he’d drag his legs over just to be with me,” said Manley.  

Manley says Abraham’s legacy will live on through the work he’s doing with Veteran Companion Animal Services.  

Manley now has a new adopted boxer, which he named George Washington.

Manley says George has big shoes to fill but even as a puppy, George is already providing the same feelings Abraham was able to provide.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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