How Clover the PTSD service dog changed one man's life

Jody Salway—diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder years after he was involved in a friendly fire incident while serving in Afghanistan—reflects on how his service dog Clover has changed his life.

“It’s nice that I can always just reach down, and there she is.”​​

Jody Salway and Clover, his service dog for PTSD, have become an inseparable team over the two years they have worked together. (CBC)

Jody Salway was involved in a friendly fire incident in 2006 while serving in Afghanistan.

Seven years later he was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Since last year, Clover has been by his side almost every waking moment of every day to help Salway cope.

"It was about 2012, 2013 when I was diagnosed with PTSD and I wasn't really sure what treatment I wanted to go for," Salway told CBC Radio's Saskatchewan Weekend. "Through the network that I had, I had started seeing people get service dogs."

After listening to one of his peers experiences with a service dog, he figured he needed a teammate who would always be there for him.

My confidence level started coming back.- Jody Salway

Salway was just starting school at the University of Regina, which he said was adding to his anxiety. Once his service dog Clover came into the mix during his first semester at school he noticed everything in his life start on an upswing.

"Having her there all the time and her doing her job, I started getting more sleep, my confidence level started coming back, she became what we coined, 'social lubricant,'" Salway said.  

Salway said before he had Clover around he would feel uncomfortable having conversations with people because of the anxiety he would experience.

Now, those same conversations have switched from being about him to conversations about Clover which makes it easier for him to have discussions with people.

'I'm going to get through this'; meeting Clover

Once Salway decided he wanted a service dog he set out to find an animal which would be best suited to his unique needs.

He said the breeder he contacted had German Shepherds or English Mastiffs to choose from, with each breed being better suited to different scenarios.

As Salway didn't have issues getting out of his house or remaining active, the Mastiff was a better choice.

He said he felt as though he might become a 'walking billboard' once he obtained a service dog, because not many people knew he was battling PTSD. Once he met Clover, his mentality changed.

"I was looking at her, and she was looking and me, and I thought 'you know, I'm going to get through this,' and she looked at me and I think she had this look in her eyes that was like 'I've got a lot of work to do,'" Salway said.

A living barometer

Salway said Clover is now a 'living barometer' for how he is doing mentally.

"I can look at her, and when she's doing something that doesn't seem right, I can always stop and pause [and ask] 'what am I doing right now, what doesn't feel right, what am I doing to make her do what she's doing, what is she reacting to?'" Salway said. "Ultimately, then [I think] 'you know what? I am a little bit anxious and here's why.'"

Giving himself that second to reflect on what's going on helps Salway address the anxiety he may be feeling—​which helps it go away.

Work is something Clover loves according to Salway. While she's wearing her service dog vest she's doing what she does best— but even when the vest comes off, she's always watching Salway's back.

"What she's trained to do, is always be watching the void, whatever I can't see, she watches," Salway said. "We call that keeping six. Sometimes I'll be washing dishes and I feel her come up and sit between my ankles to make sure nothing surprises me."

Becoming a team

Salway said after nearly two years with Clover by his side the two are inseparable.

"I might leave her at home for certain things once in awhile but it's so rare, she comes everywhere with me," Salway said. "It's nice that I can always just reach down, and there she is."​​

Salway said Clover is trained to check in on him by bumping him every so often to make sure he's doing okay.

Beyond small gestures, Clover also helps Salway by literally pulling him out of situations that might just be too much for him to handle.

Clover has helped Salway cope with night terrors he experienced since he returned from Afghanistan. He said she would wake him up by licking his face until he was conscious. At his worst, Salway said he was sleeping just four hours a night.

"That was tough, because the body can't sustain that and I had been doing it for years," Salway said. "When she came in and she started interrupting the sleep cycle from the nightmares, well, my four hour cycle went up to six and that two hours was really noticeable."

Salway now is sleeping between seven-and-a-half to eight hours every night, which has provided clarity in his thinking patterns and helped diminish the anxiety he feels on a regular basis.

The extra sleep is also allowing his body to repair the damage in his brain.

With files from CBC Radio's Saskatchewan Weekend


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