SAN ANTONIO — Sgt. Amanda Peterson joined the Army Reserves in 2001 to help pay for college. She was 19 years old when she deployed to Afghanistan.
“I turned 20 in-country,” Peterson said. “It was very eye-opening. It definitely made me appreciate what I had and what I was able to do.”
After that tour, she deployed to Iraq twice.
“In Afghanistan, there were a lot of kids that just wanted to be able to go outside and play and they'd step on landmines,” Peterson said. “In Iraq, we dealt with a lot of mortar attacks and things like that. The crazy thing is, when we're in-country, we don't think anything of it.”
But the dust settled when she returned home. Peterson was diagnosed with a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Loud noises and big crowds would trigger painful memories. It was hurting her relationship with her husband, children and friends.
“All of my emotions came out as anger,” Peterson said. “When I was scared or upset, all my emotions came out as anger instead of being sad. It made it difficult, especially for my kids.”
Peterson’s negative experiences and emotions built up over several years. She eventually contemplated suicide.
“That thought scared me into realizing that what I was doing with the pills at the V.A. and all that stuff was not working or it was not enough for me,” Peterson said. “I needed to have something else happen.”
She started researching other options and found K9s for Warriors, an organization that gives highly-trained service dogs to people suffering from PTSD, TBI and Military Sexual Trauma. The K9s are rescued from local animal shelters and trained to help veterans.
Amanda was paired with her K9, Chesdin, in 2019. He was the difference between getting by and getter better.
“He's just a bright spot of happiness in a dog,” Peterson said.
The two go everywhere together. Chesdin is trained to help manage Peterson’s stress and keep her in the present moment. Peterson said he brings a sense of calm to her daily life.
“Like I could walk into my grocery store and I could tell you where the exits were. That’s what was running through my mind the whole time, you know, like okay, where would I hide my kids if something were to happen,” Peterson said. “But he brought that focus in, so now I’m looking at him.”
Peterson said Chesdin has given her independence, confidence and comfort.
“Before Chesdin, I could only go out to places for 45 minutes. Whether it was grocery shopping or whatever, I could only do 45 minutes,” Peterson said. “Now we have gone to the zoo. We've gone to movies. We've really been able to go out as a family.”
Peterson never thought a dog could change her life. Now, she can’t imagine life without him.
“He’s an extension of me,” Peterson said. “And he was a stray. He was rescued and I don't know his story before this. But now we get to write our own story.”
K9s for Warriors is the nation’s largest provider of service dogs to veterans. The waitlist to be paired with a K9 goes out to 2026. The service dogs are given to veterans at no charge.
If you’re interested in supporting K9s for Warriors, click here to learn more.