Service dog changes life of NY volunteer firefighter
Darryl Vandermark was paired with his service dog, Patriot, and he said the canine helped dim the depression, the anxiety, the anger he had felt due to his PTSD
By Rachel Ettlinger
The Times Herald-Record, Middletown, N.Y.
MIDDLETOWN, N.Y. — Darryl Vandermark said he doesn't know when his Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder started.
The former deputy chief of the Orange County HAZMAT team and now a fire instructor said he hit a tipping point four years ago.
"I was trying to hide from the world, trying to figure out how to get through what I was going through," Vandermark said, noting that a lot of his fellow first responders experience similar symptoms.
After a suicide attempt, Vandermark said he sought help, going to doctors and trying therapy to treat his PTSD. But that only went so far for him.
Vandermark said he looked into getting a service dog, a round-the-clock companion, but the cost made the idea seem out of reach. He said he already had expenses to treat "health events" from his time at Ground Zero during the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
But when the Deerpark resident and 26-year Mechanicstown volunteer firefighter was paired with his service dog, Patriot, he said the canine helped dim the depression, the anxiety, the anger he had felt for so many years due to his PTSD.
"Patriot's just right there. My quality of life has gotten a lot better," Vandermark said. "It's pretty awesome, but I don't think I would be here today if it wasn't for Patriot and for my family."
Vandermark said he was paired with Patriot by Puppies Behind Bars, a nonprofit that raises service dogs for war veterans and first responders who suffer from PTSD. The nonprofit pays the costs associated with receiving a service dog.
Puppies Behind Bars service dogs are trained for two years in one of seven correctional facilities in New York and New Jersey. PBB helps rehabilitate inmates by allowing them to help train the dogs, the organization's website states.
People with PTSD experience symptoms such as reliving a traumatic event, avoiding situations that remind one of a traumatic event, changing beliefs and feelings more negatively, and feeling "keyed up," the National Center for PTSD states on its website.
Now Vandermark helps others experiencing similar situations.
"It's not only my story, it's everybody's story," he said. "... When students can see that their instructor is human, too, and has PTSD, and how I'm coping with it, it helps them through."
Vandermark said he encourages those with symptoms of PTSD to talk to someone about what they are feeling.
"If you talk about it, you can possibly get through it. But if you bottle it up inside, those visions will always come back to haunt you," he said. "So talk, and don't be afraid of anybody telling you you're weak, and don't be afraid of anybody telling you you need to suck it up, because it's OK to talk about it."
©2019 The Times Herald-Record, Middletown, N.Y.