Several years ago, a chance meeting with a U.S. military veteran at a dolphin research center led to the creation of Mary Alice Monroe’s first holiday novel. After the release of A LOWCOUNTRY CHRISTMAS, one of her greatest hopes during her book tour came to life in the form of a very special shelter dog. Now she’ll tell us how it happened.
I was in Grassy Key, Florida volunteering at the Dolphin Research Center learning everything I could about the Atlantic bottlenose dolphin as part of book research for my Lowcountry Summer Series. One day, one of the staff members invited me to volunteer with the Wounded Warrior Project. I learned that not all vets have wounds that are visible. Some had missing limbs. Some had burns. Some looked completely healthy. But all had the unseeable wounds of PTSD or Traumatic Brain Injury. I was struck by their courage, strength and resilience. One veteran, in particular, had a service dog. I witnessed the powerfully intense relationship–bond–between man and dog. When we talked, the vet explained to me how important his dog was to him. I’ll never forget what he said. “I love my wife. But I need my dog.” The highlight was when his big black lab cautiously approached the end of the dock. There, a dolphin was curiously rising up from the water, checking out the dog. We all held our breaths and watched as the dog inched closer…and closer. And when they touched we collectively exhaled, “Awwww.”
When I returned home I worked with Pets For Vets to research the training of service dogs. What I learned led to the creation of A LOWCOUNTRY CHRISTMAS, the story of Marine Taylor McClellan (from the Lowcountry Summer Series) who returns home for the first time since being injured in Afghanistan. His external wounds have healed but he’s suffering from PTSD, making this holiday season feel anything but joyful for anyone in the family. PTSD (like addiction, depression, etc.) doesn’t just happen to the one individual. It happens to the whole family. Through the miraculous donation of a service dog named Thor, the family is led on a healing journey to discover the true spirit of Christmas.
A LOWCOUNTRY CHRISTMAS is a fictional story but it mirrors a reality that many military families are struggling with today. There are different modalities available to help people with PTSD. Canine therapy is one that has proved helpful. In short–service dogs save lives! Pets for Vets is a national organization that pairs a veteran with a shelter dog that’s been specially selected and trained for a particular veteran’s personality and lifestyle. A lot of thought goes into choosing not just a dog, but the right dog. There are many wonderful service dog providers in the country. I especially love the method that saves a shelter dog. A shelter dog gets saved by a veteran. And the veteran is saved by the dog. It’s WIN WIN! The bond between man/woman and dog goes deep, far more than the cliché “man’s best friend”. The dog is a lifeline for the veteran.
While on book tour for A LOWCOUNTRY CHRISTMAS, I asked my readers to join me to provide the funding to train one service dog for a veteran. It was my way of giving back and thanking our service men and women in a meaningful way. I partnered with my local chapter of Pets for Vets with the goal of using proceeds from local book signing events. Thanks to the generosity of my readers I can say with great joy that we reached our goal! Here is a photo of a local veteran named Chris from Reeseville, South Carolina and his service dog Max! .
The picture speaks a thousand words!
There are so many service men and women waiting for a service dog. It takes time and money. But you can shorten their wait. Maybe even save a life. Please consider a meaningful “THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE” this Veteran’s Day by donating to a non-profit organization near you that’s dedicated to matching veterans suffering from PTSD with a service dog.
This story is very close to Mary Alice’s heart because she is the proud mother of a Marine.
Mary Alice with her husband Markus and their son Zach.
Mary Alice with Markus and Zach’s wife Caitlin.