Female veteran gets a new "leash" on life

Published: Mar. 10, 2020 at 6:48 PM CDT
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Some people may dream about being surrounded by adorable puppies, and for one woman that dream came true, but there’s a deeper meaning to it.

Lavonne Bower started the Paws and Warriors organization with the goal of reduced suicide in veterans. She was inspired when she and her three-legged service dog, Oz, began providing therapy at hospitals around the area where she lives—one of those being the VA.

“I saw immediately that he had what it was to be a therapy dog, something that I always wanted to do. So we did therapy work for a little while…the VA…different hospitals and one of the things that was important to me was I really wanted to make a difference and have our time matter. And I saw how veterans were connecting with Oz.”

Once the organization took flight she eventually met Krystal Heller, who’s now the Vice President of Paws and Warriors. She’s made a career for many years in the Army and will soon be able to call herself a veteran, but she didn’t expect that to happen so soon. While she was on a Paws and Warriors business trip last year, something unexpected happened.

“We were out to dinner and that evening I went into multiple episodes of ventricular tachycardia and up to, I think it was like 12 to 15 episodes that evening and was brought to the emergency room and ended up the ICU for six days. So with that, the second day I was in the ICU, they tried me on beta-blockers and I went into bradycardia and my heart stopped for 11 seconds. I’ve had a few more episodes, two more hospitalizations…that disqualifies me from continuing my service.”

Krystal struggles with PTSD and on top of that, she’s now faced with making the transition from military to civilian life. So, a Paws and Warriors ambassador here in Cenla, Sean Davis, decided he wanted to help Krystal out. She and Paws and Warriors President Lavonne Bower traveled to Alexandria recently to meet with Sean and his five puppies. After going through some protocols and bonding sessions, Krystal found a perfect match in one puppy, that she’s named Brynjar, who will now go through training to become her service dog.

“One of the things that veterans and like I said, people are used to operating a certain level is to…finally get to that point where you’re admitting that I could use this help. And that having a dog with me, a service dog or a therapy dog or whatever the person needs in an emotional support animal…that it’s okay to have that around.”

Through Paws and Warriors, she’ll be able to train Brynjar herself, with the guidance of other trainers. There’s a long road ahead for both of them, but Krystal’s thankful for the opportunity to have her new four-legged friend beside her as she starts a new chapter of life.

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