Mark Berry is a 59 year old Veteran, born in Hyannis, Massachusetts. In 1973 Mark enlisted in the United States Navy and spent the next 4 years serving during the Vietnam War Era. He was with the 6th Fleet after boot camp and spent time on a carrier in the Mediterranean. Mark was an airman on the flight deck. One of his job tasks was during the recovery of TWA flight 841 that was attacked by terrorists in 1974 over Athens, Greece in Route to JFK, NYC. This was the first known instance of a young Arab boarding an American plane in a suicide mission(resource, Wikpedia). Mark was part of the recovery team that brought home 88 bodies including 79 passengers and 9 crew members. To this day, Mark has a difficult time discussing that event in his life.
Mark is 100% disabled. He has been living with mental disorders and PTSD since his service to our country. He was diagnosed with PTSD two years ago during a VA hospital stay.
When I asked Mark how he came to GatorlandK9 he said," I have gone through the system and met other Veterans that had service dogs. I saw how they were working for them and I wanted one." All Veterans are looking for relief and solutions to help them cope with their PTSD and other Brain related disorders. According to Mark he was told that there is at least a 4 year waiting list. Mark found GatorlandK9 on the internet and was impressed by Owner Ted Hoppe's Military Service in the Air Force. He was drawn to the dogs we presented and reached out to Ted.
Mark has been living with his service dog Naya for two years. Mark has a deep respect for Naya. He respects her as an employee would respect their boss. Talking with Mark was refreshing, he has a very professional relationship with his dog. He views her as she should be, a "working dog". I asked Mark how he navigates the relationship when they are not at work. He said, "she is trained to know that once her vest goes on, she is on duty. When the vest comes off, she is off duty but always on, stand by". Only when the vest comes off does he indulge Naya in play with her Kong Toy. Naya was born in March 2011.
Mark Berry & Naya
Six months ago, Mark started to fight in a new war. A war for his rights to bring his service dog to the White River Junction VA Hospital, VT and for Naya's right to perform her job functions at all times. Without a legal explanation, Mark was told by a social worker of the facility that he could no longer bring Naya into the facility. Mark took it upon himself to fight for his rights and the rights of other Veterans. Naya had never exhibited any behavioral issues or negative conduct both physically and from an audio perspective. She was professional at all times. Becoming accustomed to the benefits of having Naya by his side at all times created anxiety, fear and anger inside of Mark. Mark could not understand, Naya had been to the hospital with him many times, she has always been well received by the housekeeping, nurse, administration, doctors & therapists. Mark said, "When the Social Worker told me that this is a new policy it was presented in a way that I perceived it as a threat, t was time for me to stand up and fight for my rights."
Mark immediately turned to GatorlandK9 and we immediately jumped into action by reaching out to a Corp. of Veterans including Sean Hill. There were endless phone calls on Mark's behalf to the VA Hospital, Local Politicians including Congressman Peter Welch who went in on foot to meet with the Administration of the VA Hospital on Mark and Naya's behalf. Unfortunately none of their efforts were met with a positive response.
When Mark exhausted all of his internal resources at the hospital he reached out to Chief of Police, John Richardson. Police Chief Richardson, took it upon himself to contact the hospital directly and was responsible for facilitating the reinstatement of Naya's ability to enter the hospital. Naya already had the appropriate paperwork and attire to represent her official role as Mark's working dog. It is sad that it took a First Responder to get the job done. Since when did our Veterans stop having a legitimate voice? To be fair, Mark has stated clearly that he thinks the White River Junction VA Medical Center is one of the best facilities he has dealt with in his years post service. In his opinion this was not a policy issue but a human issue. Naya and Mark are back in business and have championed a positive outcome in this situation.
The point of sharing this with you is that Mark wanted other Veterans to know that we cannot always rely on others to advocate for our needs or rights. Sometimes we have to take a stand and do it for ourselves. In this case Police Chief Richardson helped Mark get this situation turned around, but Mark had to go out and advocate to him for his help. It was empowering for Mark and as the author of this blog, I hope this helps other Veterans not find defeat in the word NO. NO can create empowerment.
Jill asked Mark to share some of his wisdom with other Veterans pertaining to PTSD and Service Dogs, specifically with his life experience with Naya. Here is what he said:
1. "Talking to Therapists and Psychiatrists on a regular basis is a part of my treatment. I do not wait until I am close to a breakdown to get help. Also, when I visit the VA hospital they take notes and put them into the computer. During my fight to get Naya and my rights reinstated they always made notes in the computer. Ultimately that helped me when presenting my case to the Police Chief to help me. Police Chief Richardson acted as my liaison and cited the laws to the same people who were telling me no."
Other first responders will be more sensitive to the issues of a Veteran. They have respect for our service.
2. Be wary of where you purchase a service dog. Naya is an import dog hand selected for me based on various emotional and physical criteria. GatorlandK9 & serviceprotectiondogs.org custom selects all of the dogs for all of their clients. Domestic Shepherds tend to have a higher incidence of thrown hip dysplasia and mental instability. The Breeds that Gatorland & serviceprotectiondogs.org provide are able to sort out different environments naturally.
Naya stays neutral in busy environment, where other service dogs jump up off place command or bark. Naya always remains in control.
3. Naya helps Mark wake up from nightmares and night terrors. She calms him down.
4. Mark shares, "When I am in general public places ie; Walmart or food stores, Naya has the ability to pick up on what is going on around me before I do. She has an incredible sense of her surroundings at all times. She alerts me by standing in front of me or she puts her left paw on my leg which is an indicator for me to find a quiet place. If anyone comes close to me, she alerts me by standing so close to me she is almost on top of my leg."
Mark stated boldly, "Meet my PTSD!! I have anxiety, paranoia, agitation to the extent that I can be viewed as verbally offensive, withdraw socially. All of these symptoms have been helped and alleviated to a great extent because of Naya and our working relationship. I am consistently in awe of how she has the ability to read me, my symptoms before I recognize them in myself. I have had to learn how to read her and her responses as well. I am mutually protective of her. I respect the training guidelines of not allowing the public to touch or interfere in her work. Once in awhile she is stumped by a situation. She cocks her head and looks to me and I guide her as to how to handle the new situation. We are a team.
Mark recently shared this article with me http://www.vnews.com/news/healthcare/8365794-95/va-gets-45-million-for-ptsd. There is help coming for PTSD research, more so than in the past. Article's such as this that show the grants and funding working for our Veterans is promising. We have a long way to go.
Mark Berry & Naya
Mark has had an inspiring journey for himself with his service dog Naya and on behalf of other Veterans. We look forward to sharing more with you as Mark continues to navigate through his life with Naya by his side.
For More Information on our Veterans with PTSD Programming visit Contact Jill Pavel (732) 423-2070