Truman is more than a service dog - he's a foundation

February 19, 2019

Brenda Faulkner has a simple message for veterans who have been diagnosed with health and/or mental health issues: don't overlook the contribution that a service dog can have on your quality of life.

And, Faulkner walks the walk she is talking. According to the Army veteran, she was sexually assaulted by one of her drill instructors while in basic training. Faulkner also said she did not receive proper care for a knee injury, which led to a broken hip.

"I tell them not only am I a member of the (PTSD) club, I am president," she said.

Although Faulkner left the Army after less than a year of active service, she battled the VA for years before being diagnosed with PTSD, which worsened in 2013 after she was involved in a car accident that left her with a traumatic brain injury.

"My brain didn't work the same way after the accident," she said.

Faulkner, who now lives in Dumfries, Virginia, had been pursuing a doctoral degree in cognitive psychology before her accident, but could not finish the program.

"I was so frustrated," she said.

For Faulkner, the tipping point of frustrations came when she was on the way to a VA appointment. On the drive, she began thinking that she'd end her life by driving into a tree.

Luckily, she didn't do it.

"This is what it feels like to want to hurt yourself, to feel like there's no future," she said. "My brain really convinced me of those things. It was really horrible."

Enter Truman

The sense of frustration and isolation that Faulkner was feeling would soon end. Although she was familiar with service dogs, the former therapist in private practice outside Fort Leonard Wood never thought she was "deserving" of one.

All that would change when she learned about Missouri Patriot Paws, an organization that pairs veterans with service animals. Faulkner was ultimately partnered with Truman, whose very presence helps her control anxiety and other issues related to PTSD. The pup also helps Faulkner with mobility issues related to her knee and hip injury.

Julia LeDoux

"I was existing before I had Truman," Faulkner said. "I'm living since I've had Truman."

Truman himself was turned into a shelter and then trained as a service dog by inmates in the prison system.

"I say he served time for catnip addiction," she said with a laugh.

Because of her experience with Truman, Faulkner formed the Truman Foundation, which seeks to spread the word about the important role service dogs can play in the lives of veterans.

With Truman at her side for support, Faulkner visits American Legion and Disabled American Veterans posts and other organizations to share her story of resilience and the role that Truman has played in helping her get back out into the world.

"I want to educate people," she said. "I want to help them understand what service animals can do."

Faulkner said the foundation also works to educate veterans, community members and organizations, and employers in how to properly interact with a service dog team.

"We're going to educate, to talk about how these dogs interact with each other and with people," she said.

Veterans with disabilities often feel isolated and in turn isolate themselves by withdrawing from the world and staying home, Faulkner said. When you have a dog, you can't do that. Walks and outside playtime are mandatory, as are trips to the store and vets office.

"Dogs make you get outside yourself," she said. "They help you meet people and make friends. When people see Truman, they come up and want to know about him."

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