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A New Leash On Life

“Trauma, if it doesn’t destroy us, wakes us up both to our own relational capacities and to the suffering of others. Not only does it make us hurt, it makes us more human, caring, and wise.” — Mark Epstein.

Hi, my name is Rhonda. I’m an ordained Christian minister and a trauma therapist. I’ve also suffered with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PSTD) for over 50 years. It is very difficult and delicate for me to share my story in public. I know that it can be distressing for people to read. I’ve included more info and a video on PTSD at the bottom of this page. I’ll focus here on some of the ways it has personally affected me and how my service dog will help.

I have PTSD because I was raised in a catastrophically abusive family where I suffered daily physical, emotional and sexual harm from infancy until age 18. Betrayal, assault, manipulation and neglect was my whole world. My doctors say it’s a miracle that I even survived my childhood. But I thrived in some miraculous ways and dedicated my life to the emotional care and spiritual nurture of people who have been traumatized. Still, I face some very significant hurdles. My service dog will help give me a new “leash on life” as we face those hurdles together.

My biggest personal challenge from PTSD is constant hypervigilance. This is actually a natural result of trauma. When life threatening things happen to any one of us, a helpful brain region (the amygdala) tries to make certain that whatever harmed us will never happen to us again!!! In PTSD the amygdala becomes enlarged as it tries to warn us over and over again to avoid that thing that has harmed us. When there are inescapable harms coming from many directions with no end in sight, the brain can come to view nearly everything as a threat in order to try and keep us safe.

Another brain region, the hippocampus, which is associated with with memory functions becomes atrophied in PTSD. This makes it more difficult to distinguish between what happened in the past and what is happening right now. This is the mechanism underlying flashbacks. My service dog will be trained to bring my attention to the present during a flashback and to offer comfort, assistance and deep pressure therapy if needed.

Trauma also causes lasting changes in prefrontal cortex. This area of the brain, which modulates emotional responses also shrinks in PTSD, giving rise to extreme fear and stress responses. All of this means that my trauma sensitized brain is constantly scanning the environment for possible danger while feeling past traumas as if they are happening now, which floods me with unmanageable anxiety. This is really exhausting. It makes it hard for me to live and work in a relaxed way. My constantly raised cortisol and adrenaline levels damage my health

So how will my Service Dog help me?

  • As dogs naturally do, my dog will effortlessly scan our environment. Then my brain can then relax and allow me to relax too. I can rest knowing that if there is something threatening in my environment that my dog will absolutely hear/sense it first.
  • Bedtime hypervigilance. When I was a child I would routinely awaken from a deep sleep to discover I was being assaulted. My dog will be specially trained to help me get to sleep and to assist me at night when I have flashbacks, night terrors or nightmares. I have used prescribed sleeping pills for more than 30 years even though they are designed to be taken for no more than 6 weeks at a time. These medicines damage my health and cognition, but I’m completely unable to sleep without them. We hope that my Service Dog will help me to finally be able to sleep without chemicals.
  • During the day my dog will also help me with many tasks that will make my world a quieter, more relaxed and less anxious place. Can you feel what a literal godsend my dog will be for me?

I’ve spent many years as a pastor raising funds for church budgets and projects that targeted the needs of other people. I find it humbling to ask for funds that will benefit me.

Would you please only take action here or donate funds if the “yes” comes from a deep place within that brings you joy and delight? If you feel called, here are actions you might take on my behalf:

  1. My therapist Andrew Feldmar has made a video below about what PTSD is and how service dogs might assist in PTSD. Please feel free to listen and share the attached video as a way to bring light and understanding about an often misunderstood condition.
  2. If your heart leads you share this message and my fundraising page, could you please pass on the link through whatever social media connections you might have? PTSD is very isolating and you can help me reach a much wider receptive audience through your kindness in passing the link along.
  3. If your heart is willing, you feel a clear YES! and are joyfully able to help me fund my precious medical assistance animal, I’m so happy to receive your support by (Pressing the link button) here.

What is PTSD?

PTSD occurs, according to the DSM, after experiencing threatened death or actual or threatened serious injury or sexual violence, either as the subject of the threat or as an onlooker. It might also be from experiencing repeated details of such events such as a police officer who daily hears details of sexual abuse.

These events are the followed by symptoms such as:

  • Unexpected, involuntary, and intrusive upsetting memories of the traumatic event.
  • Repeated distressing dreams related to the traumatic event.
  • The experience of flashbacks where you feel as though the traumatic event is happening again.
  • Strong and persistent distress when exposed to cues (inside or outside of your body)  connected to the trauma.
  • Strong bodily reactions (like increased heart rate, dizziness, nausea) when reminded of the trauma.
  • Frequent avoidance of reminders associated with the traumatic event is also representative of PTSD. This includes avoidance of thoughts, feelings, physical sensations,  people, places, conversations, activities, objects, or situations that bring up memories of the traumatic event.
  • Also associated with PTSD is the inability to remember an important aspect of the traumatic event.
  • There can be persistent and elevated negative evaluations about self, others, or the world (for example, “I am unlovable,” or “The world is an evil place”)
  • There may be self-blame or blame of others about the traumatic event.
  • There may be pervasive negative emotional states (for example, shame, anger, or fear) and an inability to feel positive emotions (for example, happiness, love, joy.
  • There may be a loss of interest in activities that you used to enjoy.
  • PTSD may be associated with irritability or  impulsive, self destructive or aggressive behavior or
  • feeling constantly “on guard” (hypervigilance ) or like danger is lurking around every corner.
  • There may be a heightened startle response, difficulty concentrating or problems sleeping
  • To be diagnosed with PTSD the symptoms are experienced for more than a month and bring about considerable distress and/or interfere greatly with a number of different areas of your life and are not the result of substance abuse.


Our goal is $25,000