Santa Cruz County

Gilroy nonprofit uses dogs to help veterans who suffer from PTSD

Each dog is trained specifically to owner's tendencies

Operation Freedom Paws Helps Local Vets with PTSD

APTOS, Calif. - George Bravo has been living with post-traumatic stress disorder for 20 years.
"It's kind of humiliating, I just felt like I didn't have control," Bravo said. "It's a horrible secret to keep."

Sharing his story Thursday at Mar Vista Elementary School in Aptos wouldn't have been possible without Bravo's service dog, Macy, and the local nonprofit Operation Freedom Paws.

"She starts acting like a clown, she starts making me laugh," he said about Macy. His PTSD stems from his stint in Somalia as a Marine in 1992.

"The kids that were there were the age of 5 and they're walking around with AK-47s and it was the same age as my son at the time," he said.

"And just knowing we had to ambush them and take their weapons away, and knowing that you could get shot any time by a little kid."

Because Bravo and is fellow Marines were battling plain-clothes enemies, danger was around every corner. That uncertainty stuck with Bravo when he came back to the United States. His flashbacks were triggered by loud noises and he'd have to "hit the deck" in anticipation of an attack.

"Looking around corners, looking for exits, planning my way out," he said.
Operation Freedom Paws, based in Gilroy, trains dogs for a year to work with either physically or mentally wounded veterans. The dogs log more than 300 hours, learning their owners' tendencies.

During the presentation at Mar Vista Elementary, Macy sensed Bravo was getting nervous on stage so she jumped up to bring the attention back on her.

"My service dog's job is to bring me back to the present," Bravo said.

So while Macy can't cure Bravo's PTSD, she can help curb it and allow him to live a normal life.?

CLICK HERE to view Operation Freedom Paws' website. 

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