Since COVID-19 crashed the country and disrupted Army veteran Don Zuzula's own health, his home music studio has become a haven - not only for him, but for his PTSD service dog, Harbaugh.
Don was paired with Harbaugh in the February 2017 class of K9s For Warriors. After their three-week training at the organization’s headquarters in Florida, the new team returned to Don’s home and family in Michigan.
The battle buddies had been doing very well in the time since, increasing their bond to help relieve Don’s PTSD and anxiety. However, the pandemic hit Don hard at home. He found out in April of this year that he tested positive for coronavirus. That could have easily sent him spiraling back down into the dark depths of PTSD. Service dogs are trained to help veterans do the exact opposite of what Don was now forced to do to protect his physical well-being: isolate and social distance.
“I had what was considered a mild case, but even a mild case was miserable. Forty-five days after I was sick, I was still having a hard time breathing. I couldn’t walk up the stairs the whole way. I had to stop halfway because I struggled to breath.”
Don turned to some of his deepest loves to cope with COVID-19 and the heightened feelings of anxiety brought on by the situation: music, and Harbaugh.
Don and his brother began a challenge together: write a song a day while he was quarantined. He spent days and nights in his home music studio, set up with guitars, a keyboard, a drum kit and production gear.
What became Don’s comfort space also became Harbaugh’s. The music studio turned into the shelter-turned-service dog's favorite hangout, where he now keeps his bed, toys, and lovingly keeps an eye on his veteran Don as they both adapt to the ongoing pandemic.
“He has a great amount of concern for how I’m feeling. If I go to a room, he goes to that room. I don’t have to strap him to me for him to go wherever I go. It’s just where he wants to be. I like that he’s there with me.”
Don knows that his relationship with Harbaugh isn’t one way; he also has a responsibility to help Harbaugh despite social isolation. He made a point of finding ways to get them both outside to maintain Harbaugh’s training and own well-being.
“I’m really thinking about how unfair it is to him. He hates not working. He becomes insufferable and waits for me to walk towards the door. That’s been the hardest thing with things being closed down and not going to restaurants. We miss out on a lot of training opportunities. Now I’m making a conscious effort to go out so I can maintain training.”
To maintain that training, Don takes Harbaugh on walks daily and runs errands safely with him. But it’s not all just for Harbaugh; these daily activities also help keep Don’s PTSD at bay and not let isolation eat away at him. It’s a reciprocal relationship.
Altogether, Don composed 50 songs in 50 days. He credits Harbaugh with getting him through the illness as well as the ongoing tough times.
“Harbaugh was the most instrumental in helping me recover from COVID-19. He always gave moral support. Every time I get sick, he just lays in bed with me and doesn’t move. He just stays with me. And he still helps with PTSD and anxiety. He really did help me with recovery.”
Like Don, K9s For Warriors has been constantly adapting to the pandemic. To comply with CDC and state safety regulations, K9s For Warriors is currently only holding classes for veterans from Florida and the surrounding states. Nevertheless, any interested veteran nationwide is still encouraged to apply if they are diagnosed with PTSD, TBI or MST and desire a service dog to help heal from military-related trauma. K9s For Warriors is committed to keeping its doors and hearts open during the COVID-19 pandemic for the veterans and rescue dogs who still depend on us to give them a new “leash” on life!
To apply for a Service Dog, click here.
If interested in donating, or for other ways to support our nonprofit, please visit https://www.k9sforwarriors.org/ways-give-k9s-warriors