THE ASPIRE CENTER:
The ASPIRE Center is a 40 bed residential treatment program for Veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Traumatic Brain Injury, Substance Use and/or other mental health issues. The Center provides evidence based therapies for mental health with additional support to address physical health, housing, finances, career options and educational goals.
The Center opened 3 years ago, with the mission to provide a place for Veterans to heal and move forward with their lives. Veterans come to the ASPIRE Center with a lot of hope and anxiety about the future. Change is difficult, even when those changes are in a positive direction. It is a stressful process that needs a lot of supportive encouragement.
After NSSD visited the ASPIRE Center, Gina and Sally recognized the benefits a Facility Dog could bring to the Veterans we serve. They approached VA Leadership and advocated for placing one of their Service Dogs at the ASPIRE Center. Once the approvals were in place and I was trained, NSSD donated Sonny to the ASPIRE Center. Sonny is a fully-trained beautiful 3 year old black lab, who is full of energy and unfiltered joy. Lucky me, I am Sonny’s handler and have the delightful responsibility of bringing him to work each day.
There is no happier employee at the ASPIRE Center than Sonny. Each day, as we wait for the elevator, his big beautiful black tail is straight up in the air, wagging furiously in anticipation of his day. He runs to my office and then promptly pokes his head out the door waiting for the first Veteran to arrive. He greets each Veteran enthusiastically and brings them his ball, tug-of-war toy, or if they ask his leash. Throughout the day Sonny waits for Veterans to come and take him for a walk or out to play. He gets a bit down if he has to spend too much time in my office between Veterans.
However, Sonny is not just at the ASPIRE Center for a good time. While he loves the walks and playtime, Sonny has a more serious job. Don’t ask me how he knows but he knows when a Veteran needs his quiet presence next to them. When Veterans come to my office he immediately places himself at their feet or leans into them. In groups he wanders around until he finds the one Veteran that needs him and places his head in their lap. This is not training, this is an innate intuition that can sense a need.
Sonny has brought joy and laughter to both providers and Veteran at the ASPIRE Center. He also provides something each of us craves – unconditional affection. Sonny lives in the present moment – he does not care about your past, your successes, your failures, or what anyone else thinks of you. He just wants to be there in any way you need him to be. Myself, all of the Staff at the ASPIRE Center, the Veterans, and most definitely Sonny are grateful to NSSD for their willingness to see the need and the benefits of having a Facility Dog. – Christy Reynolds, LCSW