Hoosier veteran eases bad memories with service dog

(WISH Photo)

FRANKLIN, Ind. (WISH) – Fourth of July can be tough for veterans.

“We actually go and hide every Fourth of July,” Hoosier veteran Nick Bennett said.  “It’s what we do.”

Bennett earned the right to be wary of fireworks. He heard enough of the real thing during his service with the Marines. In 2004, a rocket attack in Iraq seriously wounded Bennett. He said he was certain he was going to die.

“It’s God’s hand that I’m still here,” he told 24-Hour News 8.

Bennett needed 26 surgeries to get back the life he has now. However, he has still has physical and emotional limitations.

He’s not as mobile as he was before the attack. He also struggles with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). He has flashbacks to his life in Iraq.  They may come from the sound of fireworks or they may come from the sight of trash on the side of the road.  His military training makes him suspect roadside debris could be a roadside bomb.

The pull of those bad memories, though, can be overcome with his service dog, Festus.

Festus is a red fox labrador from North Carolina who came from the Indiana Canine Assistant Network (ICAN). For people such as Bennett, an ICAN dog is more than just companionship.

“Festus is like having a brother and sister in combat,” Bennett said. “Somebody’s got your back.”

Bennett said he wasn’t really a dog lover until Festus.

“It’s pretty amazing how quickly we started to read each other right away.  It’s like the leash is an umbilical cord and he can already sense my needs, my fears, my anxieties,” he said.

24-Hour News 8 has followed Bennett since 2005 and have seen the confidence Festus gives him now.

“He’s given me the opportunity to be in the present moment and live life and not have to worry about the boogeyman around the corner who’s trying to kill me,” Bennett said.

It’s more than that, though. Festus restores the mobility Bennett lost. If Nick falls, Festus knows to brace and support Bennett as he gets back up.  The dog can get keys, turn lights on and off and bring Bennett his shoes.

Life still isn’t perfect, but with the support of his family and with Festus, Bennett can devote less time and energy to tension and worry.

“Life’s good,” he said.

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