When Daniel Sepulveda wakes up in the middle of the night shaking from another nightmare, a service dog from Southeastern Guide Dogs named Max is there to calm him and make him feel safe again. When he sleepwalks, Max’s kisses awaken him.
Since he was a teenager, Daniel couldn’t wait to join the military. But after serving in the U.S. Army as a 15 Tango Helicopter Crew Chief in Afghanistan, he came back to Crystal River, Florida, suffering from anxiety, hyper-vigilance, depression and other symptoms of post-traumatic stress. After nine months in a nerve-wracking war zone, Daniel was traumatized by an accident that crushed his right hand under 10,000 pounds of Black Hawk equipment, sending him to Germany as a medical emergency.
Back home again, things were different.
Daniel suffered chronic pain. He was more comfortable sleeping on the floor. Loud noises and alarms—even on the TV—triggered panic attacks. He startled easily and couldn’t relax, even around his two young daughters and wife. The house was full of tension. He spent a lot of time in bed. He needed something to focus on, an anchor to distract him from the flashbacks. Always one to “adapt and overcome,” Daniel couldn’t shake the PTSD that robbed him of his dream to be a lifer in the Army.
A neighbor who is a volunteer puppy raiser for Southeastern Guide Dogs mentioned the organization to Daniel, and his doctor agreed that a service dog was a good idea. Now he has formed an indelible bond with an “amazing, energetic, and playful” black Labrador named Max, a trusted partner and ally.
Each morning at 5:30, Max wakes Daniel with military precision. He is bringing joy, happiness and positivity back into the Sepulvedas’ lives. When Daniel leaves the house Max uses the “watch” and “block” commands to keep people from crowding too close. Soccer, fishing, laughter, play and communication are slowly replacing fear and darkness. Max is every day “no fail therapy,” says Daniel.
There are still obstacles to overcome, but Daniel is no longer trapped in a full-time combat zone. He has a highly trained and responsive battle buddy at his side 24/7. Max is gradually bringing this Veteran home.