Monthly Archives: November 2015

You Are Not Alone

Bigby and his buddy Ollie when he was still a pup.
Bigby and his buddy Ollie when he was still a pup.

A year ago today Craig Tiger took his own life.  While on duty Craig had been involved in a fatal shooting. He suffered for some time before being diagnosed with PTSD.  I can only imagine how terrifying it was for him to experience the feelings of isolation and guilt in secret. When is PTSD resulted in a DUI the lack of mercy and understanding from the Chief at that time had an enormous impact on his healing and recovery and based on his own words led to his suicide. The two children he so clearly adored were left without their father. His ex-wife Rebecca Tiger fought to educate and continues to fight so that this does not happen to another officer. His death shook this city up.

As we strive to educate the city of Phoenix on service dogs and PTSD in our first responders it strikes me that some of those who are fighting their own battles may be discouraged.  I’ve been looking up other cases of officers that suffer from PTSD and  the stories are familiar.  I read the tragic stories of Ken BarkerAshley BryantRon FrancisPaul BuchananJohn Seifert and Ryan Healy. I also read about survivors like Brian Post and Sgt. Rob Atkins who has a PTSD service dog.

One of the things that I keep reading over and over is that officers are concerned that if they come forward they will lose their jobs or the respect and trust of their peers.  Seeing the current hassle that Scott is going through shouldn’t discourage anyone from getting help and support.  Phoenix city management appears to be sorely in need of information and education but they are a very small portion of the greater community. The overall response to Scott and Bigby’s story has been overwhelmingly positive and encouraging, particularly from Scott’s coworkers.  It seems that some magic in the world brought the most supportive officers in the universe here to Phoenix.

When Scott is feeling down he often references a post by Myke Cole. Myke is a fellow veteran Coastie, writer and good friend who like Scott has PTSD. Seeing a friend actively taking a role in being his best self with PTSD has helped Scott immensely. PTSD tends to be so incredibly dramatized and misunderstood. The media often depicts a world filled with outward chaos and violence. My experience with Scott has been one of a terrifying quiet. My favorite Myke post, What PTSD Is, has been the key to realizing that Scott was not alone.  As Myke puts it: “It is the shaking real­iza­tion that love cannot pro­tect you, and even worse, that you cannot pro­tect those you love. It is the final sur­ren­dering of the myth that, if you are decent enough, eth­ical enough, skilled enough, you’ll be spared.” I’ve watched this happen in real time and it is heart breaking.  Like watching Superman next to a piece of kryptonite.

Until you realize that what made Superman so great was the Clark Kent aspect.  There is no question that Clark would continue to help people however he could, superpowers or not.  For me Scott is a hero because he is honest about what he is going through. He knows that telling the truth will help others.

Don’t be deterred by our current struggle if you need help.  You have the support of your brothers and sisters in blue.  Our communities  support first responders with PTSD. As a family member who watches someone fight this every day I can tell you that your family and friends love you even if they can’t always understand.

You are not alone.

-Christie


If you need help here are a few resources:

Safe Call: If you need immediate assistance please call 206-459-3020.  This is a 24 hour line that is completely confidential for first responders and family members. You will get a live person who is a public safety employee themselves.

Badge of Life: I love this group because they seem so old school cop.  Direct and detail oriented the group has many former and current officers on their board.  If you are currently a first responder or family member of a first responder they will be very familiar with the unique stressors you face. They have services for both the US and Canada and their links page has  lots of resources and programs for first responders. Check our their Facebook page too. 

Psychologists/Counselors: One of the most important parts of Scott’s recovery has been the work he’s done and is going with a psychologist.  Aren’t sure where to go?  Try asking a friend.  That’s how Scott found his and I think it helped him to start with a foundation of trust.  You can always get a reference from your insurance or employee assistance program too.

EMDR: This stands for eye movement desensitization and processing.  Scott and I first heard about this in our college psychology class.  It’s an intense version of therapy that targets specific traumatic memories and utilizes a light bar. I was pretty skeptical when I first heard about it but when it was recommended that Scott try it I was on board.  He went to a psychologist that was specifically trained to utilize this method for PTSD.  Scott felt it was very beneficial and I feel like I saw results too.

Acupuncture: Yes I know.  I tend to be very skeptical of alternative medicine too.  However, you can find lots of people that find this beneficial.  Don’t rule it out if you don’t mind having tiny needles stuck in you.  Scott had this done more for the horrible digestive issues he was having and the results were immediate and impressive.  When someone has had extreme pain at every meal for 8 months and immediately after their first acupuncture session they eat a burger no problem you become a believer.

Foundation for Service Dog Support: This is the group that Scott is working with.  Getting Bigby was a game changer for Scott and for me too.  It’s been a lot of work and clearly there have been challenges but for us it has been worth it for the chance for Scott to feel like a whole person again.  They are based out of the Phoenix area but have an outlier program for outlier areas.

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An Update on Scott and Bigby

Scott and Bigby on the TrailThe amount of support we have received for Scott and Bigby has been overwhelming.  I have read some of the most amazing messages and letters and they prove what I already knew: our friends, family, coworkers and community are intelligent, compassionate and thoughtful. Thousands of people have read my Request for Help and many have assisted us in educating the city of Phoenix on PTSD and service dogs.  Unfortunately the city still has not realized that Scott has the right to bring Bigby to work and took retaliatory action against him yesterday.  Below I’m posting my email to Chief Yahner which I sent today.  Thank you so much for your continued support.  We could never have done this without you.  I owe you all lots of lemon bars and hugs.-Christie

Dear Chief Yahner,

I am extremely disappointed in your response. By taking retaliatory action against Scott you are halting the resolution of what should be a simple issue. However, I’m glad that we have started a dialogue. I only wish that it had taken place earlier.

One of my main concerns with this situation is the extremely inappropriate phone call that Scott received from the Human Resources department. It is clear that the city needs to take steps to educate this particular employee and the department in general. No one has yet addressed this issue. I expect Scott to receive an apology and I would like reassurance that the city will address this issue and work to educate their human resources employees so that this will not happen to anyone else. Scott and I have always been willing to have a dialogue regarding his use of a service dog. We are fully aware that he is breaking some new ground and can provide you with resources to better educate city management as well as police management.

When Scott made the decision to have a service dog he also made a decision to join the service dog community at large. As such he knew that part of this would be educating the public, his coworkers and family about the role that Bigby his service dog plays in his life. He also has a duty to fight for his rights when they are violated. Your assumption that the city makes the decision on whether he can bring his service dog to work is incorrect. He has a legal right to have a service dog at work and city or police management do not have the ability to change this law. I’m sure you are well aware that the community supports Scott and Bigby. I have received copies of some of the letters that have been sent to the city manager’s office. We are so incredibly lucky to have such articulate and compassionate family, friends, neighbors, officers, veterans and community members. Please use the information that they have provided you with.

The retaliatory action of asking Scott to remove his shield and gun while in public is not only ridiculous but also completely contrary to every action the department has taken prior to Scott asserting his right to a service dog. You yourself have been at several public events with Scott where he has worn his shield, service weapon and had Bigby with him. Scott has suffered an egregious injury in the line of duty and I think you should be proud that the police department has made reasonable accommodation to allow him to safely and proficiently access his service weapon in the form of a thigh holster. Scott has been able to pass all of his qualifications and there is no reason that he should not be allowed to wear his service weapon and shield in public. Scott has been successfully working as a Missing Persons detective with Bigby for over two months. If a citizen were to approach him for help he would be able to professionally and proficiently provide assistance if in the unfortunate instance that it would require the use of his service weapon. The reality is that Scott will live in some degree of pain for the rest of his life. He will also live with the physical consequences of missing portions of his small and large intestine that prevent him from being able to be on patrol. However, none of these injuries prevent him from using his service weapon or being able to assist the public as the department has been well aware up until this issue arose.

I feel as though the portion of this discussion that you have not yet realized is that Scott and Bigby are a symbol of hope. Your officers need to know that if the worst were to happen you would support them in their recovery. I’m sure you are aware at this point that the community expects this from you and the city management as well. Scott is not the only officer that is suffering from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). He is not the only officer that suffers chronic physical pain from injuries sustained in protecting this city. This issue is larger than Scott and Bigby; it is about how you treat all of those who serve. We have to be adamant in demanding that this issue is dealt with quickly, appropriately and with compassion because we have to show other officers there is hope. The worst possible outcomes from these types of situations lead officers to hide their physical and psychological pain. That road only leads to anger, pain, alcohol abuse, drug abuse and death. Scott and Bigby are on a different path. Scott immediately sought treatment both physically and mentally following his shooting. He has been in many hours of extremely painful and difficult work. He left no stone unturned in searching for help. This path led him to Bigby as a way to be his best possible self and the best possible officer that he could be.

Scott is your greatest ally. Or at least he will be; never doubt the power of an apology. If Scott can forgive the person that shot him and move forward in such a positive manner imagine what he will be able to do for the department. The department has made some great advances under your leadership. There is more awareness of PTSD than ever. There is a new employee assistance unit (EAU) and the officer who has been in communication with me has been compassionate, logical and professional even in the midst of my grief and heartache at the pain that has been caused by the city’s careless actions. However, it is clear that more work needs to be done. Scott found a path that led to his best self after the type of critical incident that has proved career ending for other officers. He is a model of what to do following a critical incident. He has taken every step necessary so that he can serve this city and continue his career as a public servant. What better resource could there be.

Do the right thing. Show your officers that you have care and compassion for the inevitable suffering that some of them will face. Return Scott’s shield and gun to him in public. Work with the city management to get Scott his well-deserved apology and to educate them on this issue. I know this has been a headache and a hassle but this is bigger than just Scott and Bigby. This is about how the leadership in our city deals with those that have sacrificed for their city. You have the opportunity to do something great; don’t let it pass you by.

I look forward to our continued communication on this issue.

Sincerely,

Christie Prince Sefranka

A Request for Help

Scott and Bigby at Work

Some of you know that Scott has been raising and training a service dog to treat his PTSD.  We had discussions with each other, his doctors and our family and friends before embarking on this journey. We’ve received amazing support from The Foundation for Service Dog Support that supports first responders.  From the moment Scott began to take his dog Bigby to work with him our lives have changed. Scott was able to break his cycle of isolation and enjoy being out in the world. He truly enjoys working as a Missing Persons detective. I was able to transition from being a caregiver back to being a partner for the first time since he was shot.

This dog has been well behaved since the first day on the job.
This dog has been well behaved since the first day on the job.

Unfortunately, the city of Phoenix does not want Bigby to come to work with Scott, and their reasons are unfounded, being based on both erroneous facts and ignorant assumptions as indicated by their language in our recent correspondence. Bigby is a psychiatric service dog and is clearly covered as reasonable accommodation under the law.  He is not a therapy dog, emotional support dog or just a fun pet.  The HR representative that called Scott would not use the word PTSD and instead referred to it as “mood issues” and repeatedly called Bigby an emotional support dog despite Scott’s repeated attempts to correct and explain. Scott had a medical doctor and two psychologists, one of which specializes in treating PTSD, diagnose PTSD and recommend that he get a psychiatric service dog.

For someone with PTSD this was enough to trigger an episode. Thankfully, Scott had the wherewithal to call me and got out enough words so that I understood what was going on and could rush home.  Scott once told me that when he was shot he never believed he was actually going to die and he thought that had helped him live through it. Now, I was watching Scott lose his will to live on my living room floor and the only thing keeping him here was Bigby.

An emergency page to his psychologist’s office, a visit from a good friend and constant care from Bigby helped Scott come back.  I spent the night speaking with a variety of different people and demanding that this issue be resolved.  Unfortunately, this has been a big step back in Scott’s recovery.  I don’t think I’ve ever been prouder of him than when he got up, got dressed and went to work the next morning (with his service dog of course).  The instinct for someone with PTSD is to isolate and avoid; I can’t even imagine how difficult that was for him to do.  Particularly, because there was a chance that he would be walked out the door for bringing his service dog despite the legal protections.

Scott has taken steps to treat his PTSD from the beginning.  It has been a struggle but he is a fighter and he’s been fighting hard for a long time and was turning some major corners. He is the love of my life and my best friend.  I will never stop fighting for what is best for Scott.

The thing is, I can’t do this by myself. Scott needs your help too.  He needs his brothers and sisters in blue, his fellow veterans, his family and his friends.

Ways you can help:

Send Scott words of encouragement on Facebook.

Send Scott words of encouragement on Twitter (@QkslvrSailor)

Share his story.

Contact the Phoenix City Manager:

Ed Zuercher, Phoenix City Hall

200 W Washington St.

Phoenix, AZ 85003

Phone (602) 262-6941

Email: ed.zuercher@phoenix.gov

If you live in the city of Phoenix, you can also contact your Phoenix city councilperson.

Thank you for the continued support,

Christie

Even when Bigby was an untrained little puppy he brought joy to Scott's life by giving him hope.
Even when Bigby was an untrained little puppy he brought joy to Scott’s life by giving him hope.