Army Veteran Trains Service Dogs to Help Others in Need

Army Veteran Christy Gardner lost both of her legs while on duty. She struggled with feeling "useless" after her service, but after being saved by a service dog, she has found a new purpose in life. She now works to match Veterans with Service Dogs so they can be impacted just as much as she was. 

“I wanted to serve in the Army for forever,” Gardner, says. “When that got cut short, I felt useless. I needed a purpose, and this feels like a great way to continue to serve.” She was in the military police stationed on a peace keeping mission in 2006 when the incident occurred.

Following an attack, “I had a spinal cord injury, some organ damage, some trauma to my legs, trauma to my arms, face, head, all of that," she recalls. "I ended up with two skull fractures and some facial fractures, a broken jaw. I ended up losing two fingers and both legs.” 

She spent 18 months in the hospital fighting her injuries. “They said I would never live alone, or walk, or ride a bike, or swim. I wasn't allowed to cook, because I could catch the house on fire because of my disabilities. I wasn't allowed to bathe alone,” she says. “It was extremely defeating meeting with them, saying that I would be dependent on my parents or a caregiver for the rest of my life, and that I would never be active again.”

The staff members at Walter Reed Hospital believed a service dog would help her recovery. Moxie, a Golden Retriever helped with her mobility assistance and was a seizure alert dog, because Gardner has epilepsy after her brain injury. After she saw the impact Moxie had on her, she began to raise and train puppies to be service animals for other veterans in need.

“I saw what Moxie did for me,” she says. “She was absolutely incredible.” Moxie not only allowed her to defy the odds and live independently, but she also boosted her spirit.

“She got me back into life and wanting to live,” Christy says. “She motivated me to get up and move – her needing her walk and needing to exercise forced me to become active. But she was also a great ice breaker when talking to people about what was going on with me. I didn’t want to give up, because I didn’t want to fail her – I didn’t want her to feel like she couldn’t do her job. I didn’t want to worry about what happened to her after I was gone. She really kept me going.”

She began the non-profit in 2020 with four dogs, but has since expanded to 58 dogs. Next month, Mission Working Dogs will be opening a brand new 10 building, 12 acres site in Oxford, Maine. 13 dogs have already graduated from the program with 75% going on to work with veterans in a range of service from PTSD to mobility assistance.

“With our first graduating class, two of the veterans said that if it wasn’t for their dogs, they wouldn’t have made it through the pandemic,” Gardner says. “I don’t need a thank you. Just knowing that we made a difference and basically saved their lives is enough.”

 "It's really fun to see the dogs learn,” Gardner says. “We have one dog that's currently living with me, and he has gone on a couple of overnights with his veteran. Seeing the way the dog looks at him already, and that bond is there, it's just so incredible."

"The dog is motivating the guy to make all the right steps for his life, and for his family. Just seeing that in the two of them, seeing the dog so in love with his person, and seeing the person just absolutely in love and trusting the dog, that bond is such a beautiful thing, and knowing that it could potentially save that man's life.”

Unfortunately, Moxie passed away last year, but she was able to adopt Doug as her new service dog. Gardner is now extremely active, thanks to her service dogs. She snowboards, water-skis, surfs and has played para-ice hockey on the para Olympics team for 13 years. She is a shining example of the power of a service dog!


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