Randall Dexter, a medically retired veteran who served in Iraq twice, battled with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in early April 2005 after his crew was hit with an improvised explosive device (IED).
“Three Iraqi civilians were severely injured,” he said. “One of [them] had a mortal wound to his head.”
Dexter was the only medic there, and because he couldn’t save a life, it took an emotional toll on him, resulting in his depression, he said. He was diagnosed with PTSD at the end of 2008.
Dexter took 14 medications per day, including sleep medications, antidepressants, migraine medications, anti-anxiety meds, injections for a blood clot, and many more.
“I was a walking zombie because the medications kept me physically drained and very hazy mentally,” he said. On top of PTSD, he also had a traumatic brain injury from playing flag football a few years later.
“I was an emotional mess,” Dexter recalled, adding that his wife had never left his side.
According to the Department of Public Health, over a third of nondeployed veterans will commit suicide within three years after leaving service.
Perhaps that could have been Dexter, if rescue dog, Captain, hadn’t come to his aid.
Captain was found in a shelter in the Carolinas by an organization called Service Animal Project and was sent to K9s for Warriors, in Jacksonville, Florida, where he was trained before pairing up with Dexter.
Captain, now 3 years old, played a significant role helping Dexter fight through his depression. The dog also helped Dexter get his independence back.
“He is my best friend,” Dexter said.
“We have spent nearly every second of every day together since August 2014. We have a working relationship when he’s in his vest, and a very playful, loving relationship at home when his vest is off. In vest, we are both in work mode, going to school, out in public, etc.
“At home, he loves to play, and I love to play with him. Even when he is out of his vest, he has to know where I’m at at all times. We have turned that into a fun hide-and-seek game where my wife holds his collar while the kids and I try to hide from him. He will search the entire house until he finds us, and he will be so excited when he finds us. I honestly cannot imagine my life without him,” Dexter said.
Dexter, thankful that Captain got him out of his slump, wrote a heartfelt letter to Captain and thanked him for all that he has done for him.
“I go through every day taking him for granted, and I really loved the idea of taking the time to sit down and really tell him how much he means to me,” he said.
“He is exactly what I needed to combat the crippling symptoms of PTSD. He is my eyes and ears, so that I can stay in the moment. He knows my emotions, and he won’t leave me alone, … licking me and making me scratch him if I am about to have an anxiety attack and am starting to go into a depressive cycle. He sleeps with me and wakes me up when I have nightmares.”
But Captain needs Dexter just as much. “Coming into each other’s lives definitely was perfect timing for both of us,” Dexter said.
Dexter and Captain both graduated on May 19 from San Diego Miramar College with an Associates of Arts for Transfer in Communication Studies.
“We are transferring to the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, to pursue a bachelor’s degree in communication studies with a minor in Spanish and a pre-law concentration. I am not sure after that, but I do know that we plan on going to graduate school back in San Diego,” Dexter said.
“It is crazy where life takes you sometimes, but I am so happy it brought Captain into my life.” Due to his experience, Dexter said he can “appreciate life so much more.”
“Life today is better than I ever thought it could be, and I don’t ever want to go back to the darkness I felt for so many years,” he said. “With Captain by my side, I am certain that I never will.”