Xena and Alan’s story:

Emotional support through animal bonds

Image of Xena and Alan

After serving in the British Army for 30 years, Alan had been exposed to a great deal of trauma from being deployed to multiple war zones. This had a huge impact on his mental health and emotions, causing him to shut down and become emotionally numb over time.

“After years of experiencing trauma, I had lost the ability to feel balanced emotions, which would allow me to interact socially outside of the military,” Alan explains. “I had been struggling for years with my mental health, after showing PTSD-related symptoms when returning home from the Gulf War in 2003. I had been deployed every year over the previous six years without any acceptable periods of decompression, and I continued to be deployed to further conflicts until 2009.”

After initially being misdiagnosed with a personality disorder in 2014, Alan was eventually correctly diagnosed with complex PTSD in 2022, after being discharged from the Army on medical grounds a few years before. This period of transition back to civilian life was extremely difficult for Alan. He was depressed and on medication; his fifth marriage dissolved, and he was left feeling hopeless and unable to care for himself and others.

“My condition was having a big impact on everyday situations. I am still hypervigilant to my surroundings and have difficulty regulating my moods and emotions to an acceptable and functional level,” Alan says. “Relationships were extremely difficult, as I struggled to have understanding, empathy and structured emotions.”

But everything changed for Alan when Xena, a one-year-old Italian greyhound, came along.

After struggling to connect emotionally with anyone, Alan had begun researching into emotional support animals. “I’m under the programme of care provided by the NHS Adult Services and have had Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and dream completion treatment. This was when I became aware of how animals can help humans deal with their emotions,” Alan says.

“To support positive progression, I decided to search for Xena and found her in Manchester. I was initially apprehensive as I had been unable to love and care for anyone on an emotional level for many years. I was not certain that a dog would be any different to a human.”

“I vividly remember being introduced to Xena in November 2022. As soon as I picked her up and held her, I felt protective and responsible for this fragile eight-week-old greyhound – she could fit in the palm of my hand. On the return journey, I held Xena so close and began to cry. I couldn’t understand why I was feeling this new emotion. It was very strange and confusing.”

“As a child, greyhounds were a big part of my life, so a miniature version seemed the best option to hopefully link me back to positive childhood memories I had forgotten.”

Alan explains that Xena was not a spontaneous purchase; she was a well thought out addition to his family to help support his emotional instability. After conducting some research, Italian greyhounds stood out to Alan as being very caring and attached, which is why they are often described as ‘Velcrodogs’.

“As a child, greyhounds were a big part of my life, so a miniature version seemed the best option to hopefully link me back to positive childhood memories I had forgotten,” Alan explains. “Our bond was immediate and, although confusing to me, I embraced the change. Xena does not judge me and allows me to show emotions without having to protect myself. I don’t go into survival mode and close off my emotions with Xena; she is helping me to be a better version of myself and to extend such emotions to my human relationships.”

Since bringing Xena home last year, Alan hasn’t spent much time away from her. “I am constantly with Xena, so we have a routine,” he says. “This allows me to feel happier at home and proactive in doing things for both her and myself. Xena helps promote safer living and a better sense of wellbeing, rather than my former self-destructive behaviours.”

And it’s not just Alan who has recognised Xena’s positive contribution to his life. Earlier this year, Xena was awarded Best Friend Pet of the Year at the prestigious Petplan Pet Awards – created to celebrate the unconditional love between pets and their owners, recognising exceptional pets who enrich their owners’ lives.

After stumbling across the awards one day, Alan admitted he could not justify passing over this opportunity to show what Xena had done for him. “I completed the nomination and forgot about it until I got the letter saying she had won. It was great to feel I had done something right and was doing something for her, instead of living my life just for myself.

“Having Xena insured with Petplan has offered 100% reassurance that she can get the care she needs when she needs it. She recently broke her leg, which was a very emotional experience. I didn’t have time to mess around with administrative questioning or jumping through hoops. My priority was to get Xena the treatment she urgently required, and Petplan cover enabled that.”

When asked about any advice he would offer others in his position, Alan says: “Anyone experiencing trauma or feeling that things aren’t right with their emotions, mood or behaviour should talk to someone about it. Whether that’s friends, family or professionals. Veteran support is very poor, so my support has mainly been through the NHS. I’ve also checked into charities for additional support.

But his biggest support has been Xena: “From the outset, Xena allowed me to feel positive emotions once again. She is without doubt the most appropriate partner in my life during this critical period. She has saved me from myself and self-destruction.

“Combined with NHS therapy, Xena provides me with an understanding of caring. She allows me to be vulnerable, as I know she’ll be right there with me, licking my tears and telling me it’s ok.

“The Petplan Award is testament to our bond – we truly are best friends.”

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