SAN ANTONIO – Life after military service can be a huge adjustment, as it was for Shilo Schluterman, a United States Air Force veteran. She enlisted into the service in 1999 and retired in 2014. Although her life is seemingly normal now, that wasn’t always the case.
She ended her time in the Air Force as part of maintenance operations command, working as a production controller. Schluterman says after her last return from deployment, she wasn’t the same.
“I was pretty nonfunctional after coming back from Afghanistan in 2012. I just had a really rough time, and I pulled back from everything. I did not know what was happening,” Schluterman said.
Schluterman said she couldn’t even go into a supermarket without going into a complete panic attack.
“Things would happen at the grocery store where someone would catch me from behind, and I would just go into a complete panic attack, disassociate from where I was at, what was happening,” Schluterman said.
The effects of PTSD not only took a toll on Schluterman but also on her family. She said she was always scared of embarrassing her husband and her four kids.
“So, I would just stay home. So I basically just left life and stop living and got to a point where I went through some prolonged exposure therapy. I was on a lot of different medications from the VA, but I had no joy. I wasn’t living, and then my family stopped living,” said Schluterman.
But there was a moment of realization. Schluterman said she had to figure it out and get her life back on track to fight her PTSD.
“Someone talked to me about K9s for Warriors, and they said maybe a service dog would help, and I’m like, ‘I don’t know how that would be possible.’ But it was this little, tiny bit of hope that maybe something could change,” Schluterman said.
K9s for Warriors is a nonprofit organization aimed at conquering veteran suicide and help mitigate veteran’s symptoms of PTSD. It provides trained service dogs to veterans who may also suffer from a traumatic brain injury and or military sexual trauma.
K9s for Warriors’ chief of operations, Jason Snodgrass, says he remembers meeting Schluterman at the beginning of the program’s training and added that her transformation has been remarkable.
“I know Shiloh very well, and I remember her on the first day that she came to class back in 2015. She is a 180-degree different person now. She smiles regularly. She’s outgoing. She’s cheerful. And I just remember when she came to class, she was riddled with anxiety. She was fearful of everything around her,” Snodgrass said.
Schluterman signed up for the K9s for Warriors program and waited 14 months before she would start the required training with a service dog. It was a three-week training that would introduce her to her new furry friend -- a friend that would ultimately save her life.
“They taught me how this was going to help me, how he’s going to let me know if there’s someone behind me so that I’m not caught unaware just by leaning his head against me or putting his paw on my foot. So, walking with him, people don’t get as close,” Schluterman said.
She has now been with her K9 for six years and says they are rarely apart.
“It was just that bond with him that was created there. I can’t even explain. It was like an instantaneous thing -- like he knew me better than I knew myself,” Schluterman said.
Now, the same program that helped Schluterman will be coming to San Antonio. Petco Love K9 Center will be opening this fall. It will be a collaborative effort between Petco Love, K9′s for Warriors, and the City of San Antonio.
A $2 million grant provided by Petco Love will go toward the construction of the 5,000-square-foot, 30-kennel facility right next to San Antonio Animal Care Services.
Snodgrass says K9s for Warriors has paired nearly 700 veterans with service dogs and rescued more than 1,300 dogs overall.
“We expect that we’re going to be at 100% functioning capacity here around the first part of September,” said Snodgrass.
Veterans who want to seek information about the training can visit www.k9sforwarriors.org.
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