A furry angel saved my son
December 23rd, 2011
05:26 PM ET

A furry angel saved my son

Jeff Mitchell of Braselton, Georgia, was 26 years old when he went to war in 2003. In 2007, he was forced to leave the Army through medical retirement after being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.  After years of futile attempts at treatment, Jeff’s condition began to improve a few months ago after a group called Paws4Vets paired him with a service dog who had undergone her own traumas. Jeff’s mother, Carol, tells what it was like to watch her son struggle.

First, you bargain with God.

Just please let him survive.  Please let us see him again. Oh, please surround our son with your protection.

Prayers are answered. He's back.  He has survived - he's still at Fort Carson thousands of miles from home, but he's back in the United States and he is no longer being targeted by insurgents.

Little did we know then that an even more insidious enemy was trying to take our son.

We had heard of combat vets who were unable to re-enter the "real" world - those who locked themselves away and self-medicated with drugs or alcohol or even worse, the unthinkable, ultimate escape of suicide. But not our smart, strong, handsome son - never our Jeff.

During his last year on active duty, we became increasingly aware that Jeff was in trouble.  He did a great job of protecting us from what he was going through, but a month before he was medically retired from the Army, he could no longer function. He barricaded himself in his room on post - doors locked, blinds closed - a virtual prisoner in his own shattered mind.

He was still “battle ready," still hypervigilant, waiting for the next awful thing to happen. We brought him home naively thinking that being surrounded by his loving family was just what he needed.

But things got worse and in spite of a scary cocktail of prescribed antipsychotics and antidepressants and endless visits to psychiatrists and counselors, he was admitted to the psych floor at the VA hospital - a virtual zombie - barely recognizable as our beloved son.

But then, along the way of this journey, help arrived from out of the blue. We received his Wounded Warrior newsletter and the cover story was about a veteran suffering much like Jeff. His life was changed by the healing powers of a service dog. We were desperate and out of options. Jeff read the story and asked, "How do I get a dog?"

Looking back today, I can see we almost lost Jeff, but a furry white angel saved his soul.

Tazie understood the terror of war. She was born in Kabul, Afghanistan, where she survived by her wits and most certainly by the hand of God. She was desperate and in trouble and so was our son.

Their partnership is nothing short of a miracle. They are saving each other and my prayer is that by sharing their remarkable story, another mother's son will dare to hope that there is life after war.

Watch Jeff Mitchell’s story on “Sanjay Gupta MD,” Saturday and Sunday at 7:30 a.m. Eastern.

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Filed under: PTSD

soundoff (33 Responses)
  1. JK

    How curious that the developer of Critical Incident Stress Management is also named Jeff Mitchell.

    December 24, 2011 at 14:47 | Report abuse | Reply
    • MichaelChatt

      The connection between people and Animals, especially some of the social animals is almost nothing short of Mystical. I recall once in my life going through a very bad time emotionally. My wife drug me off to Seaworld. I just wanted to pet the dolphins. We got there just as they were moving them. I said Oh great. Guess this isn't going to work out either and dropped my hand into the tank. Then two of the dolphins jumped the fence blocked them from the petting pool. They swam underwater avoiding all the people still there now trying to touch them. They came up one by one and stroked my hand with their bodies nose to tail one Dolphin then the other. As quickly as they came in the were back over the fence and gone. I was so happy it is really indescribable. It was 15 years ago and today I still look back and think about how profoundly that one experience changed me.

      A Dog has this same kind of ability. You know they don't expect anything from you and if they care for you it's real.

      We should do so much more to help the Dogs in this world. So much more to save the Dolphins. This article should have included information on places we could go for information on helping provide these dogs to people who need them. What could be better than saving a Dog and a person at the same time.

      December 28, 2011 at 17:22 | Report abuse |
  2. maineman

    It was pasted unanimously several years ago that the VA is suppose to help provide service dogs and cover the expense for their training.
    As a person with a service dog and a volunteer helper of training these dogs there are thousands of eligible dogs at shelters in this country also. puppies from shelters and the like (rescues) are trainable to help especially in situations like PTSD. Sometimes when paired up well they can sense the stress coming on and do their best to show their person that things are OK.

    December 27, 2011 at 08:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Emelia

    Animals are amazing in ways humans could never be. When we couldn't help these broken men, they could. The power of therapy dogs can truly be astounding. Wonderful story, thank you for sharing.

    December 27, 2011 at 09:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Deb G

    God spelled backwards is dog.

    December 27, 2011 at 09:39 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Margie K


      December 28, 2011 at 11:23 | Report abuse |
  5. Terry Henry

    Jeff's Service Dog TAZIE was given to him by paws4vets.org and is one of hundreds of similar Service Dogs given by that organization. They are funded by private donations and could use your help!

    December 27, 2011 at 09:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Carol Mitchell

    Please help paws4vets provide the gift of healing to more veterans like Jeff – go to paws4vets.org to see other stories of hope and healing and give what you can. paws4vets operates on donations – all of the dedicated and hard working people in this organization donate their blood, sweat and tears to helping others – become a part of this effort to make a difference.

    December 27, 2011 at 10:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Sunny Murchison


    December 27, 2011 at 11:36 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Someone

      Cats drool?

      But I will be making a donation to Paws for vets. I know of the help that dogs (and cats as well – it depends) to people. My Dad, in his later years, was somewhat a cranky guy – until a small black dachshund entered his life. He would always laugh whenever he talked about that little black dog.

      December 27, 2011 at 13:58 | Report abuse |
  8. vel

    I get disgusted that someone thinks prayers saved their son or daughter in the military as if nearly every family doesn't pray the exact same way and gee, those prayers failed horribly. It takes a certain kind of arrogance and greed to think that some imaginary friend would play favorites. And it's no miracle that your son survived and he now needs a dog to help him. It's human discoveries and human strength. No sky fairy needed.

    December 27, 2011 at 13:53 | Report abuse | Reply
    • txwtch67

      I totally agree with you vel. It's like the soldiers that died, apparently their parents weren't special enough or the right religion, or they just didn't pray hard enough to have them come home alive. They are also denying the contributions of their fellow soldieirs that keep them alive, their vigilance, their training, their selflessness. When are we ever gonna see that the same God that brought your kid home alive is the same God that had somebody else's kid come home on their shield?

      December 27, 2011 at 14:48 | Report abuse |
    • mari

      and I pity those of you who cannot see how wrong you are. However, there is still hope for you. You don't want to hear it now, but one day you'll be glad you opened your heart.

      December 27, 2011 at 15:54 | Report abuse |
    • Margie K

      My oldest son spent one tour in Kosovo and two in Iraq. I said a prayer everyday for him. I always figured it couldn't hurt for me to pray for his safety in combat zones! As his mother, it was the only thing I COULD do!

      December 28, 2011 at 11:48 | Report abuse |
    • D.

      Prayers aren't always answered in the way WE think they should be answered.

      December 28, 2011 at 14:01 | Report abuse |
    • D.

      And the story is about how a wonderful dog help a human being. Let's not get off-track...

      December 28, 2011 at 14:05 | Report abuse |
  9. Peg

    MORE AWESOME THAT I HAVE WORDS FOR. Thank you little furry friends!!!!!!!

    December 27, 2011 at 16:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. kat w

    be sure to check out the non profit called Dog Bless You on Facebook if you haven't already. there's a miracle every minute!

    December 28, 2011 at 01:16 | Report abuse | Reply
    • D.

      I can't wait to look as soon as I'm able- thank you! 🙂

      December 28, 2011 at 14:10 | Report abuse |
  11. Otasawian

    The recognition and treatment of mental and social disorders as a result of being in a war is critical to helping war veterans
    cope after coming home. The idea that someone should just "suck it up" after being exposed to the horrors of war is absurd.
    It is clearly the responsibility of the military to research and develop effective treatment programs for war veterans returning home. It would be great to see the issue of war veteran treatment become a major issue in the upcoming presidential election.
    Maybe then the "powers that be" would be forced to do the right thing instead of just talking about it.

    December 28, 2011 at 07:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Dystopiax

    Read =Letters from Wolfie=. We make animals go to war along with us, and then after we're finished killing other human beings, we expect them to fix our destroyed minds. Author Edward Abbey once said: "If a dog is a man's best friend, that dog is in trouble."

    December 28, 2011 at 09:00 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Genevieve

      Funny.....but are you sure that is what the author said? I am thinking a better description of the situation would be...."If a man is a dog's best friend, that dog is in trouble".

      December 29, 2011 at 11:05 | Report abuse |

    so they prayed and prayed to god to help there son, and the result was he ended up in a psych ward of a hospital. They give him a dog and all is better. so it would leave me to believe that dogs are more powerful and useful as a healing tool than god.... surprise surprise

    December 28, 2011 at 13:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. garfield

    I'm glad a doggy helped him.

    But if he got a cat instead, he'd be a Nobel Peace Prize winner by now.

    December 28, 2011 at 14:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. J

    And the dogs are creatures made by God and so he has still help in his way. And yes, It is very hard to try and understand why some live and some don't. It is very sad and unfair. But I am so glad the dogs are trained so well and are helping these soldiers who are hurting and have helped us all have freedom in the U.S. Bless them all.

    December 28, 2011 at 15:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Lisa Slama

    Veteran's Best Friend is located in the Cleveland, Ohio area – helping Veterans suffering with PTSD train their dogs to become their Psychiatric Service Dogs. If a Veteran needs a dog, we work with local rescue groups and shelters to find the right dog; this approach saves a life (the dog) and give a life back (the Veteran).

    Check us out on Facebook and our website http://www.VeteransBestFriend.org

    God Bless those that served our Country....it is now time for us to show our appreciation!

    Lisa Slama, Coordinator & Trainer

    December 28, 2011 at 19:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Carrie

    Angel's are all around us you just have to open your eyes. ;o)

    December 28, 2011 at 20:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. DT

    An angel that I _CAN_ believe in.

    December 29, 2011 at 05:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Christopher Dycha

    Our beloved dog has enriched our lives immensely as well. We have so much to learn from a creature that has nothing but gives everything. Christopher Dycha

    December 30, 2011 at 08:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Uh oh

    if there is a God, he? sure did a great job of coming up with a companion animal that can aid a human life to such a great degree.

    December 30, 2011 at 13:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Elaina

    Best of luck to you Mr. Mitchell and Tazzy! I was touched by your sacrafice for our country and your bravery to keep on living in the world with PTSD. Be strong and enjoy the little moments in life that make you smile.

    May 12, 2012 at 06:58 | Report abuse | Reply
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