In his years at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, BT Urruela saw hundreds of service dogs assisting veterans with emotional and physical limitations. While veterans are rarely given the tools to successfully transition back into civilian life, the support of canine companions is one thing that has never faltered.
Urruela was stationed in Baghdad when bombs tore through his vehicle, killing his commander and wounding the other passengers. Urruela eventually lost his leg due to the injuries; he even died twice on the operating table. After years of struggling with PTSD, addiction, depression, and anxiety, Urruela finally found his calling and co-founded the veteran community sports non profit, VETSports.
Fitness is now Urruela’s passion, but his dogs have assisted him along the way. Growing up without dogs, Urruela always yearned to have a dog of his own. As fate would have it, his first dog came to him in a rather unconventional way. “My first dog was a service dog named Lexi,” says Urruela. “She was a wonderful pet and I miss her all the time, but at the time, I was in a bad place and still figuring out what to do with my life, traveling a bunch, and she just wasn’t getting to do the work she was trained to do. She was unhappy because of it, so her original owners offered to take her back as they loved her too, and they had a huge farm for her to live on with other dogs, so it really was the best decision I could’ve made for her.”
Lexi created a permanent soft spot for canines in Urruela’s heart, and the veteran is now a proud fur-dad to a Papillion named Scout and a Weimaraner named Kiko. Urruela’s dogs are more than companion animals; as with other veterans, the dogs provide therapy by soothing Urruela when he is feeling anxious or overwhelmed.
“They have been an amazing aid to my recovery. They brought me up when I was down, they loved me when I felt lonely, and they made me laugh when it was the last thing I wanted to do. They are the greatest therapy.”
Urruela further explains, “Dogs really do a lot to subdue the side effects of living life with PTSD. They are so absolutely calming and lovin;, it’s easier to come down from anxiety attacks, or for those dealing with depression, they are a comfort and companion like no other.”
Urruela is able-bodied, despite missing his leg, so he hasn’t needed much physical support from his dogs, but he stresses their importance in assisting veterans with disabilities. “Service dogs provide an unparalleled service to disabled veterans. The things I have seen them accomplish is truly amazing! Lexi could pick a credit card up off the floor!”
Since fitness is now his career, Urruela is of course very active with his dogs. “I play with my dogs every time I come back home. Their wagging tails and immense excitement immediately brings me down to the floor, rolling around with them. They are so sweet and I love our moments together when I get home after a long day! I also often take them to the dog park, play ball, wrestle with them, and go for walks. Scout, being small and mobile, comes on road trips with me too.”
Through VETSports, Urruela helps veterans transition back to civilian life through organized team sports, community involvement, and leadership opportunities. Urruela is also a fitness/cover model and a personal trainer, and is working on co-writing a novel. All of these tasks keep him busy, which is why it is extra important for him to have Scout and Kiko in his life.
“My dogs are always there, always happy, and always excited to see me at the end of the day. They love you unconditionally and for me, it’s unlike anything else. They are my “children” and they mean the world to me.”
Learn more at www.bturruela.com