The incredible story of how this dog helped his human heal.
Veteran Dan Lasko returned home from Afghanistan after an explosion led to the loss of one of his legs. But the injuries that weren't visible were the hardest for him to face.
Watch Dan's story, or keep scrolling to read about it.
Dan was deployed to Afghanistan in 2004 for Operation Enduring Freedom, where he was injured in an explosion and eventually had to have his left leg amputated. When he returned home, he — like many others — experienced symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
It’s not unusual for soldiers like Dan to experience anxiety and PTSD — to feel socially isolated and constantly on edge.
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 11-20% of those who served in Operation Enduring Freedom have PTSD, and about 8 million people suffer from it in any given year. For Dan, PTSD meant that he didn't want to leave his house, he was always looking over his shoulder, and he avoided crowds.
Enter man’s best friend.
Through the help of Vet Dogs, Dan got Wally, a black lab whose energy and spirit lifted Dan’s.
A 2015 report by the Society for Military Psychology showed service dogs can help veterans cope with PTSD symptoms such as hypervigilance, nightmares, and impaired memory. These dogs are trained to perform tasks including patrolling the perimeter of a room so the veteran feels safer upon entering, turning on the lights to interrupt a nightmare, and blocking a person who is coming too close to the veteran — amazing, right?
The report also says that interactions with dogs can increase oxytocin, a stress-reducing hormone. The increase in oxytocin helps counteract paranoia, improves trust, and has an overall positive effect on sociability.
Wally became the support and motivation Dan needed.
Dogs naturally arouse a nurturing response — think baby talk and belly rubs — from people when they play with them. As a result, veterans with PTSD are in turn nurturing their own ability to once again connect with people.
One study also found that people with disabilities found it easier to make new friends after being paired with their service dogs. Dogs, service or not, can help initiate impromptu conversations with strangers, and for vets this helps enhance their social skills by turning outings into a more positive experience.
"I was always looking over my shoulder thinking that something is gonna happen. Having him around has really helped with the healing process," Dan says in the video. "He’s taught me patience, loyalty; he taught me how to be myself again."
Dan, along with his wife, Jessica, and their kids, have since adopted a rescue dog, Maggie, as a way of paying it forward for all the good Wally has done for them.
"Wally took care of me when I needed it, and I just wanted to pay it back to another animal. [Maggie's] a rescue and she's been through tough times, but hey, I have, too. I have a good support system here; you're with us and we're here to take care of you."