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PTSD Service Dog Blocked from Entering Palos Heights Gas Station

The Palos Heights nonprofit that supplied Buster the dog to the veteran wants to turn what happened at the gas station into a teachable moment.

The anxiety Christopher Majewski is often so overwhelming, even crowds of people at a mall can be too much for the 31-year-old vet.

Majewksi, who now lives in Oak Lawn, served two tours in Afghanistan with the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division and now suffers from post traumatic stress disorder. To help cope, he was partnered with a service dog designed to aid him when the anxiety of a situation becomes too much.

"Before I got him, I was a wreck. I didn’t go anywhere," Majewski said. "Then, I got him. We went to church the other day. We go out to eat."

"And the nightmares ... jeez," he said. "When I have a bad nightmare, he's there. He's waking me up. He sleeps across my chest."

The pair ran into a bit of an issue in late November at a Palos Heights gas station, according to the nonprofit training facility that provided the dog. The attendant wouldn't let Buster into the station, citing a "no dogs allowed" policy and despite being made aware that he is a service dog.

Majewski and Pam Barnett of the Palos Heights-based Paws Assisting Wounded Warriors would like to turn what happened at the gas station into a teachable moment for the public, rather than fuel any sort of outrage. An attempt to reach the gas station's manager was unsuccessful.

“Ignorance is not saying someone is a bad person, but they don’t know and they better learn," Barnett said. "In two or three years, it’s going to be a lot of dogs.”

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It’s not just veterans of recent wars that are looking for PTSD treatment. Surviving veterans from previous wars “who had been suffering for years” are stepping up, Barnett said. She believes hundreds of thousands of veterans will soon be diagnosed with PTSD.

The problems associated with PTSD have contributed to many living on the streets or in homeless shelters, Barnett said. They also lose contact with family and friends and the support that comes from them.

“Everybody becomes a trigger,” Barnett said. “And once they become a trigger, you can no longer associate with them.”

A “trigger,” Barnett explains, is anything that can set off the extreme anxiety that hits a PTSD sufferer. A building, the mall, and, in some cases, seeing people of a particular ethnic background, can become a trigger.

"The dogs never become a trigger," Barnett said.

Part of what the dogs do is to keep other people away, Barnett said. They’re trained to step in between the veteran and anyone approaching to act as a buffer. The service dogs are able to tell when the veteran is beginning to feel the anxiety and know when it's time to lead him out of the situation.

Doctors and researchers are trying to treat PTSD with drugs and other therapies. But, for many, the transition from the brutality of war to civilian life brings invisible wounds that don’t easily (or, sometimes, ever) heal.

PAWWs now works with five veterans, four of which have dogs. Buster is Barnett's first dog through the nonprofit.

"This is going to be something huge," Barnett said. Her plan, which is already going ahead, is to instruct veterans how to train the dogs and then have them teach other veterans. She hopes this domino approach will carry on. PAWWs will soon have 501c3 status and be able to accept corporate donations. They're also looking to expand into a larger facility in the area.

Barnett wants to remind people that the dogs are working and can't be petted while they are with one of the veterans. They also need to be accommodated in public places.

Editor's Note: The name of the gas station in Palos Heights that refused to allow the animal to enter has been intentionally withheld. Out of respect for the larger point about PTSD service dog awareness that PAWWs wants to make, the station will not be named on Patch.

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Palos resident December 14, 2012 at 03:36 PM
Nick, Thank you for this article which helps to educate, and inform the public, on matters most of us don't consider. I hope this helps people to be thankful for their blessings, and have compassion on those less fortunate. There are an abundance of people needing special consideration in this world. Is it really asking too much for people to open their minds, and hearts, just a little?
Suburban Mom December 14, 2012 at 05:32 PM
Awesome article! What an incredible program, our vets put it on the line for us and anything we can do to assist them should be given, especially our respect, gratitude, love and prayers. I feel badly about the service station, hopefully they can be enlightened to the laws about service dogs. PAWS keep up the great work and Mr. Majewski thank you from my heart for your service on behalf of myself, my family and our country... blessings to you & your 4-pawed friend!
Tina Novak December 24, 2012 at 02:36 AM
Well written article. I believe that the decision to not name the gas station was a good one. We need to EDUCATE, EDUCATE, EDUCATE, not create any more hatred in our world. I also feel that the Palos Hts. Commerce should be sending all Palos Hts businesses a copy of this article and a copy of the laws that they NEED to be following. It's their responsibility as well to make sure that businesses know the laws that say service dogs are to be allowed full access in Palos Hts. I have been blesssed recently by the opportunity to see first hand how service dogs can help vets with PTSD. Wow!! It's awesome!!! P.A.W.W.S. is doing a great job at giving our veterans hope again through a service dog. This is exactly what our vets deserve after they gave their service to our country....for our hope of future freedom! Pam....thank you for all you do and for the blessing you are to so many. May God continue to use us all in a mighty way.
David D. Leimbach April 15, 2013 at 07:08 PM
This guy is a liar and has never been to Afghanistan. He should be prosecuted. https://sphotos-a.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-ash3/528067_114302988752861_916781208_n.jpg
kurt whitehead April 16, 2013 at 12:51 AM
I totally agree with you David. chris is a fucking liar..... after i got out if the army i joined the national guard and he was there.... he didn't know shit, went on the easiest deployment ever. now he's pulling in 100%.... i want to expose the shit outta this guy.... kurt whitehead, 2 tours of duty. 1 in Iraq 06-07 (2id 1/23inf recon). 1 Afghanistan 08-09 (1-178inf national guard)

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