A dog who really loves his vet

Man’s best friend helps him deal with combat-related trauma

Service dog Rommy, a labrador-poodle mix, is a little big to be a lap dog but U.S. Army and Navy veteran Shon Wilson counts on the dog’s assistance in handling the symptoms from his post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury. The dog was supplied to Wilson by Deckers Dogs, Denver Bronco wide receiver Eric Decker’s foundation that trains service dogs to give to veterans with PTSD.



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Service dog Rommy, a labrador-poodle mix, is a little big to be a lap dog but U.S. Army and Navy veteran Shon Wilson counts on the dog’s assistance in handling the symptoms from his post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury. The dog was supplied to Wilson by Deckers Dogs, Denver Bronco wide receiver Eric Decker’s foundation that trains service dogs to give to veterans with PTSD.

Freedom Service dog trainer Cathy Kowalski and Shon Wilson receive dog Rommy from Eric and Jessica Decker. Photo Special to the Sentinel.



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Freedom Service dog trainer Cathy Kowalski and Shon Wilson receive dog Rommy from Eric and Jessica Decker. Photo Special to the Sentinel.

Fruita resident Shon Wilson wasn’t a traditional football fan, much less a Denver Broncos fan, until a floppy-eared twist of fate landed in his lap.

Literally.

The 39-year-old Wilson, a combined 15-year veteran of the U.S. Navy and U.S. Army, has a new best friend, thanks to a service dog program supported by Broncos wide receiver Eric Decker.

“I could not tell you I watched 10 games in 15 years, but I’ve probably watched 10 games lately,” Wilson chuckled, thrilled about the Broncos advancing to the Super Bowl. “I’ve become a Broncos fan, and a staunch one.”

After being united for about two months, Wilson and his Labrador and poodle mix, Rommy, are inseparable.

Wilson, who sustained a traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder during his service, received Rommy through Freedom Service Dogs of America, a nonprofit group from an Englewood-based organization that works to match trained service dogs with military veterans.

The dog Wilson received is the first one supported by funds from Decker, in a program called Decker’s Dogs.

Training a service dog costs between $20,000 and $25,000.

Having Rommy nearby at all times has been a lifesaver for Wilson. The duo travel together to Colorado Mesa University, where Wilson attends classes for environmental science and engineering.

Wilson had been anxious to go out to restaurants and bars, but having Rommy around reassures him if he starts to get agitated.

Rommy is trained to turn on the bedroom light if Wilson is tossing and having nightmares. The dog places his paws on his shoulders if Wilson is unable to calm down.

“He senses when I’m stressed out,” Wilson said, looking down at his leggy dog, who looked like he was ready to do anything his new owner asked.

Wilson had been prescribed six medications by the Veterans Affairs Medical Center to help deal with his disorders but the regimen always made him feel like he was sleepwalking through life.

Wilson has been able to get off all the drugs after getting Rommy.

“I was a zombie,” Wilson said. “There were days I would get up and drive to town and not remember it.”

Wilson’s internal injuries stem from being in combat situations.

One day he can’t erase from memory is Sept. 19, 2004, an especially deadly one for American troops. A car bomb demolished the Humvee that Wilson was riding in, leaving a 21-foot crater in the eight-lane roadway in Baghdad he was traveling on. Subsequent car bombs in that incident killed 18 troops.

“At that point it was daily explosives,” he said of the Iraq War.

Wilson said he’s come to terms he’ll have to be in counseling forever. He can deal with that, especially because he has a friend to get him through the hardest of times.

“You can’t really be stressed and pet a fluffy dog,” Wilson said, smiling.



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