Golly, Miss Molly
A blog about a service dog and her veteran with PTSD
(Supporting the veteran and the family caregiver)
William and I met Miss Molly about the middle of my second round of chemotherapy for Lymphoma cancer. We interviewed several canine candidates for service dog. William fell in love with a Mountain Lab—a stocky gent named Cane. For weeks, William courted Cane by spending time with him at the K-9 training headquarters. Cane never warmed up to me but then I likely smelled like a hazardous materials site with all the chemicals pumped into my body. For nearly five months, Cane received the best training tailored for William’s needs.
We visited Cane the week before he finished his training. He snuggled up to William and let me pet him. As I petted Cane, he engaged playfully with my hand and kept nibbling on my wedding ring. Without warning, he bit my hand and the ring. I yelled and jumped, bringing the owner into the room. In less than one minute, Cane lost his prestigious standing as a service dog that took him nearly six months to earn. The owner explained that once a dog acts aggressively and/or bites someone, that dog cannot be a service dog.
William moped for weeks, as he and Cane bonded somewhere along the way. For me, not so much, as the dog’s moods were more unpredictable than mine. For the next few months, William interviewed new candidates by himself due to my illness. He found it difficult to find a dog that he loved as much as Cane. The K-9 training company tired of trying to find the right dog for William until one day Molly pranced in front of the two of us. With dog treats hidden in my purse, Molly instantly took a liking to us. She didn’t even seem to mind my wedding ring or my chemical smell. In fact, she loved that I brought her treats. For several weeks, William courted Molly, resisting her loveable personality because she wasn’t Cane.
Once Molly graduated from training, we brought her home. Nearing the end of my chemo, I found myself falling over, passing out, and struggling to walk across the room. Guess who bonded with Molly first? She quickly became my dog in the home with her expert training as a brace and balance dog. She saved me once from falling off a footstool, kept me from hitting my head on the fireplace mantel, and stayed by me for those long hours when I laid sick in bed.
Molly never got the chance to bond with William because my needs took priority. William never complained but it did not seem fair that not only did the disabled veteran have to be caregiver to the caregiver but he also had to give up his service dog to his spouse.
Since recovering fully from cancer, I have encouraged Molly to connect with William. Unfortunately, his PTSD moods made it difficult for her to get close to him. As well, I am the cook and Molly’s foodie inclinations naturally connect her to me—that is, until just a few months ago.
William’s PTSD flares up and settles as often as the sun rises and sets. Although, we have found ways to help him cope, as he ages, the disease increases with intensity. One day, when I was watching my granddaughter out-of-town, he made a series of phone calls, cancelling critical household services, including the housekeepers we had for seven years. While he doesn’t know why he did it, it began a new chapter in our lives called, “PTSD really sucks.” In this new chapter, I find my patience wears thin by 10 am. William and Molly get the brunt of my impatience. Something strange started happening. Molly and William bonded in a unified front to protect each other from me.
As William experiences greater challenges controlling his PTSD, Molly serves as his closest friend. She displays one mood—lovable. Her loyalty remains fixed to him. Although she still helps me when instability strikes, clearly she attaches her leash in life to her veteran.
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About the blogger
Dr. Penelope “Penny” Culbreth-Graft is a retired city manager and graduate professor. She lives with her disabled Vietnam Veteran husband, William, and his service dog, Molly, on Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado. She writes, paints, cares for her husband, and spends time with her grandchildren.