SAN DIEGO (NEWS 8) — For some military veterans, it’s easy to feel alone, especially if they are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
But one San Diego woman found the help she needed in a place she least expected it.
Orbit is not only Lorilei Lebruska's best friend, the two-year-old lab-golden retriever mix is also her lifesaver.
"He's like the best thing that's ever happened to me,” Lorilei said. “I was definitely suicidal because what's the point? I can't work. I was injured. [I’m] 46 years old. I felt like just a waste of society.”
Lorilei's problems started when she was a teenager and as a linguist in the Army suddenly found herself on the front lines in the Gulf War.
"Who's out there? I don't know. Who’s going to come here to throw a bomb on me or a grenade in the area?” said Lorilei. “You're just laying out there. [It was] super scary.”
Lorilei would later learn she was also exposed to sarin gas which could explain some of the physical symptoms she experienced after coming home.
“It got to the point where I would lose sensation on the side of my body,” she said. “I would [experience] just severe fatigue. I lost vision in my right eye for a while.”
After leaving the Army, Lorilei suffered from PTSD that would lead to breakdowns and night terrors.
And the physical symptoms were getting worse.
"I couldn't drive. I was slurring my speech. I couldn't really talk on the phone,” Lorilei said. “I couldn't understand or communicate that well.”
In 2008, she was forced to medically retire from her job. For 10 years, Lorilei says she didn't want to leave her house and her depression was going from bad to worse. That's when her psychiatrist strongly encouraged her to get a service dog.
“[The doctor said,] ‘you really need to start looking,’ and I'm like ‘why don't you get a dog? You pick up the poop.’ And I was like ‘I can't handle a dog,’” she said.
But Lorilei finally gave in and an organization called Tender Loving Canines had the perfect match - Orbit.
Thanks to his training from inmates at Donovan Correctional facility Orbit had the skills to instantly help Lorilei who had a breakdown on day two of having him.
“He came over and started licking me everywhere and he was like nuzzling his chin between my neck and shoulders,” said Lorilei. “[Like he was asking,] ‘why are you crying?' you know?”
Lorilei couldn't believe Orbit's calming effect. She says now when she's feeling anxious Orbit picks up on those cues and makes physical contact that immediately relaxes her.
"I can get groceries now without having to leave all of a sudden, she said. “I can go to Target without being overwhelmed by the florescent lights.”
Lorilei now leaves her house every day taking Orbit on walks and adventures to new places. She says he has drastically changed her life for the better.
"He's my best friend,” Lorilei said.
Which is why Lorilei is sharing her painful story.
She hopes other vets out there struggling with PTSD, depression, and pain will take advantage of the military's canine companion programs.
"I know everybody is a tough soldier out there, but it's okay to ask for help,” Lorilei said.
To learn more about Tender Loving Canines’ different programs or to donate to the organization, click here.