Passages to Recovery – How a poodle named Gracie helps an Injured Iraqi Veteran

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Gracie reached up and opened the door to Marlene's apartment. Then she went up two flights of stairs, down the hall and turned on the light near the bedroom. After verifying that all was well, Gracie went back down the stairs to Marlene and helped her to enter her apartment. Gracie is a Standard Poodle who received extensive training from Tender Loving Canines Assistance Dogs to become a service dog. After careful assessment and matching, Gracie was placed with Marlene, a wounded Iraqi war veteran. They trained together to become a team.

Gracie was aptly named. In her graceful way, she has opened a variety of doors for Marlene, bringing her through the transition from war to home, from injured warrior to recovering civilian, from a restricted, solitary struggle to a meaningful social life.

It has been four years now, since Marlene received a lower right leg injury from a mortar blast in Iraq. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and chronic pain kept her isolated until Gracie, was placed as her Service Dog. With Gracie, Marlene is now able to go into her empty home with less anxiety, go outside with more self- confidence, sleep better at night with fewer flashbacks, and to decrease her medications. With Gracie by her side, Marlene is better able to tolerate crowds and to be more independent.

Recently, Marlene had to have her right lower leg amputated to stop the constant pain she endured. Gracie seems to understand the need to protect the new wound. Gracie has risen to the challenge and is now assisting even more with her retrieval skills and offering assistance to Marlene in rising out of a chair and in gaining stability in public.

Now, Marlene is taking her first steps with her new leg and is looking forward to a more active life. Before long, the team of Marlene and Gracie will be on the road again; playing soccer, running together and passing through many more of life's doors.

Fara Khaleeli