I Took A Chance Because The Drugs Weren’t Working

Service Dogs, Puppies behind bars

Arthur chilling out in Vegas!

A terrible accident happened while Major Diggs Brown was deployed in Afghanistan.

It was late 2002, and a group of four local children, who the Army was helping to teach, were killed.

The event has had long-lasting effects for Diggs.

“There was nothing that could be done; it just happened. That’s been my albatross around my neck ever since,” he said.

He’s referring, of course, to the Samuel Taylor Coleridge poem, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” The albatross is a metaphor for a burden to be carried as penance for things that have happened in our past.

For things we aren’t wholly responsible for but ultimately feel we are.

Diggs, an Army Special Forces retiree, spent more than three decades serving our country and has a rich past full of joy and sorrow. After retiring, Diggs was diagnosed with PTSD and had been continually prescribed different cocktails of drugs that just weren’t working.

“They tell you, ‘Here take all these drugs and come back in a couple months and we’ll see how you’re doing,’ and you come back in a few months and you’re freaking out even worse, you don’t know who you are, so they tell you to try these other drugs,” he said.

Then one chilly night in the late fall of 2012, everything changed.

“I was pretty much over the cliff on the way down to the bottom. That’s when I got my DUI. It popped out of nowhere and one night I just flashed back to the whole scene,” Diggs said, wincing from the instant memory of that bleak day in Afghanistan.

Diggs knew he had to try something different. What the VA was doing wasn’t helping. He needed a change.

That’s when Diggs learned about Dog Tags, a Puppies Behind Bars program.

“Before the dog, it was really rough times. Nightmares and night sweats. I was waking up all the time. I was very alert to noises and extremely antsy in crowds. I went into this isolation mode where I didn’t want to even look at people. I just wanted to stay at home,” he said. “Once I got the dog, which is not an easy process, it got better.”

Puppies Behind Bars raises 15 to 20 service dogs a year to assist veterans who suffer from some disability. The dogs are brought into the program as 8-week-old puppies and participating inmates within the New York State Penitentiary system train them for two years before they are placed.

Once accepted, vets go through an extensive 16-day course, with the dogs and inmates, prior to being given their new companion. If the veteran and dog both hit it off, the dog heads to his or her new forever home.

Each dog is trained with 85 standard commands and learns five specific to the vet and their needs. They know how to dial 911 and can open or close doors and windows. They can pick up items from the shelf and pay the cashier at the grocery store. They know how to spot nightmares too and are trained to turn on the lights or pull off the covers to wake their companion.

“They come out highly skilled. He can even do the laundry, he doesn’t fold but he can put it in, start the machines, and pull it out at the end. For me it’s a company thing though, he keeps me company,” Diggs said talking about Arthur.

Service Dogs, Puppies behind bars

Diggs and Arthur heading into the wintry backcountry

Having a service dog may not be for everyone though. There’s some intrusion into private matters, and it’s not cheap to take care of a dog.

“A lot of people with PTSD don’t want to go out into public; they don’t want to associate. But you have to go out. You have to take your dog out. People are going to talk to you about your dog so you have to engage and it brings you out of the shell that you’ve place yourself in,” Diggs said.

Wherever Diggs and Arthur go, people want to ask questions, pet Arthur and see him do a trick. Although Arthur’s vest says “Do Not Pet,” Diggs is happy to share his loving companion.

“It makes the dog happy and it makes people happy. It’s very calming for everyone,” he said. “Boy, he’ll throw one up there (a proud military salute) and people get a big kick out of it.”

Diggs attributes being completely off meds in large part to Arthur coming into his life. Since their union, Major Brown is feeling whole and healthy again, and he and Arthur are looking forward to the future.

“I take care of Arthur, but he keeps an eye on me. He’s a real comfort to have around,” Diggs said. “So here we are, just living the good life.”

In addition to being a 2014 Warriors to Summits Mission: Mt. Whitney participant, Diggs has been active in the outdoors and is currently planning his next adventure. There are murmurs of the possibility of a walk across the U.S., with Arthur by his side, to raise awareness for PTSD.

Whatever Arthur and Diggs decide to try next, we’ll be rooting for them!

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Learn more about Puppies Behind Bars today at: http://www.puppiesbehindbars.com/home

or follow Arthur on Facebook at Arthur Barker Black.

About Dog Tags: Service Dogs for Those Who’ve Served Us was established by Puppies Behind Bars (PBB) in 2006 to provide service dogs to combat veterans returning home from Iraq (OIF) and Afghanistan (OEF) who have suffered a physical injury, including traumatic brain injury (TBI) or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).