There were dogs a plenty bounding around Shoreline Park in Gulf Breeze, Florida Thursday afternoon.
However, Pop was not one of them. The two and a half-year-old black Labrador doesn’t interact with other dogs since that would go against his training: being a service dog for his veteran owner, Rob Vickers.
“It wasn’t until about 2010 that I was actually diagnosed with PTSD and I started getting severe migraines, debilitating migraines, really bad respiratory and sinus infections,” Vickers said.
Over his military career, Vickers served in the Marines, the Air Force and the National Guard. He was also serving at Ground Zero on 9/11 and served a number of years in Iraq starting in 2002.
“At one time, I was taking 12 pills a day just to go to work, just to be an active, productive member of society,” Vickers said.
That is, until he met Pop.
“And within a short 110 days, I’m down to three pills a day. I’m back to being a husband and a father again and that’s the biggest blessing,” Vickers said.
The duo was brought together through a program called “K9s for Warriors.” The organization rescues dogs and pairs them with veterans suffering post-traumatic stress disorder.
“Pop was a junkyard dog. Not only did they rescue him, but they rescued me,” Vickers said.
The program also helped Vickers’ friend and classmate Alonzo Lunsford. He is a fellow staff sergeant who was shot seven times during the Fort Hood Massacre of 2009. He was driving with his dog, Bomber, when he got the news of the latest shooting.
“And on the way back home, I had to pull over because I started crying and he was there to comfort me along with my wife,” Lunsford said.
“With PTSD, it’s…most people really just can’t fathom how consuming it is, you know, the hyper vigilance, the paranoia and stuff. It’s consumes you. It takes all day,” Vickers said.
But he said having a loyal companion makes it a bit better.