Cole Lyle, a Marine combat veteran, is our Real Stories feature this issue. Throughout this feature, you will hear his heartbreaking account of desperation as he struggled with PTSD, found Kaya and what he is doing now to help veterans who are going through the same, or worse. You will also learn about his advocacy efforts and how he is trying to prevent others from the same struggles. You can follow his & Kaya’s story on Instagram at @kayalyle.
“Before getting Kaya, I was a wreck. I got out of the Marine Corps in February 2014 and was addicted to a cocktail of prescription drugs. I was concurrently going through a divorce, didn’t have a job, and wasn’t in school yet. I had recurring nightmares and anxiety attacks being around people that weren’t family or fellow Marines, and there were lots of days I couldn’t get out of bed. A lot of Marines experience the same sort of problems, and the crazy thing is that I am but one example, and a fortunate one, amongst the 20 veterans a day that commit suicide. Folks lifted me up and were there for me at dire moments, and my life changed completely when I figured out that service dogs were an option, even before I got one. That was why I was so passionate about helping other veterans get them.”
One of the ways he has been doing just that is working on the P.A.W.S. Act (Puppies Assisting Wounded Service Members). It is currently a bill (H.R. 2327) introduced to the 115th Congress by Representative Ron DeSantis, R-FL-6.
Gaining huge bipartisan support, Lyle and other organizations are optimistic that this will revolutionize access to service dogs to wounded service members once passed. Cole’s journey to Kaya was not an easy one, however, here is his story on the struggles he endured along the way as well as some advice to others needing the same help: “After I went through a divorce and tried to commit suicide, I had decided to get out of town and clear my head. I was an Eagle Scout and had spent a lot of time in the outdoors as a teen. A friend of mine lived and worked in Breckenridge, Colorado, and an airline was having a 20th-anniversary sale for $20 one-way flights, so I got a roundtrip flight to Denver for $40, and my friend just drove to get me. I spent five days in Breckenridge, and while my friend was at work during the day I borrowed her jeep to explore the area; go hiking, jeeping, all that. As fate would have it, I ran into an old Marine friend of mine as I was out and about one day, and he had a service dog.
It turns out he had been going through the same challenges, and he told me how a service dog helped him. That’s when I decided to pursue [getting a service dog].” Knowing that the wait list could be long, Cole did as many veterans often do and purchased a puppy from a breeder, then paid to have her trained. Often the outcome may not be as successful as Cole’s, but he had two friends who were professional dog trainers. “I had two friends that trained dogs. One of them trained basic obedience, the other had been training dogs for SWAT teams and such. The latter of the
two had a brother in 2/7 that had committed suicide, which inspired him to start training service dogs for PTSD. Both of the trainers said they would help me at a discounted rate. In conjunction with the advice I got from the trainers, I picked Kaya from a litter. She went to be obedience trained with the one friend, then got trained for service work by the other.”
Cole leaves this advice for any veteran seeking a service dog, “The best advice I can give is just to make sure this is the right thing for you. A lot of guys see me with the dog and think just getting a dog would help, but they’ve got kids that are allergic, or other territorial animals, or are going through a divorce. Pills and therapy work for some people, for others they don’t. But even for those who they don’t work for, sometimes you have to get your life at least to a point where the dog won’t suffer unnecessarily if you get one. Sure, a service dog’s job and mission are primarily to help you, but it’s still a living thing that needs to be well cared for. I love Kaya more than anything; she saved my life in more ways than one, and deserves to be cared for as such.”
To see more photos of Kaya’s journey, you can find them online at AmericanServiceDogs.org under ‘Real Stories.’ To submit your real service dog story, click here: https://americanservicedogs.org/submit-story-ideas.