It took a lot of people to bring Christy Gardner back from the brink of death, but it’s a special canine she credits with truly saving her life. In 2006, Christy was serving overseas as a sergeant with the United States Army’s military police when her unit came under attack. She was gravely injured in the battle and lost two fingers and both of her legs, along with other critical injuries.
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She spent a year and a half in the hospital fighting to survive. When doctors told her she’d never live independently again, she plunged into a deep depression. The thought of living as a fully disabled person reliant on her parents for care was so painful, Christy wondered how she’d ever carry on. Then, she met Moxie.
“They said I would never live alone, or walk, or ride a bike, or swim,” Christy recalled. “I wasn’t allowed to cook, because I could catch the house on fire because of my disabilities. I wasn’t allowed to bathe alone. It was extremely defeating meeting with them, saying that I would be dependent on my parents or a caregiver for the rest of my life, and that I would never be active again.”
Doctors suggested Christy get a service dog, which is how Moxie the golden retriever came into her life. Service dogs are highly trained to help with everyday tasks like opening and closing doors, carrying bags and other items, putting away groceries, and turning lights on and off. Moxie was also trained to detect seizures, which plague Christy due to a head injury she suffered in the attack.
Moxie turned out to be exactly what Christy needed to push her personal limits and start living again!
“She got me back into life and wanting to live,” said Christy. “She motivated me to get up and move – her needing her walk and needing to exercise forced me to become active. But she was also a great ice breaker when talking to people about what was going on with me. I didn’t want to give up, because I didn’t want to fail her – I didn’t want her to feel like she couldn’t do her job. I didn’t want to worry about what happened to her after I was gone. She really kept me going.”
With Moxie’s help, as well as years of physical, speech, and occupational therapy, Christy shattered her bleak prognosis and now leads an extremely active lifestyle. She loves outdoor sports like waterskiing, surfing, and snowboarding, and competes in para-ice hockey and track and field at the Paralympics.
“I used to run a 5K every weekend, just because they said I couldn’t,” said the determined veteran. “Not that I particularly enjoy running, but just because I could.”
Inside Christy’s chest, the heart of a warrior beats on. As she got stronger, she was amazed by the power of service animals to literally save people’s lives. She decided to help other veterans experience the power of service dogs by starting a non-profit called Mission Working Dogs in 2020. The program trains puppies and matches them with disabled veterans.
“I wanted to serve in the Army for forever,” Christy explains. “When that got cut short, I felt useless. I needed a purpose, and this feels like a great way to continue to serve.”
Christy is now a certified dog trainer, and Mission Working Dogs is flourishing. They’ve now raised 58 dogs and a huge new facility on 12vacres in Oxford, Maine opens in 2023. Sadly, Moxie passed away, but her memory is preserved forever on the non-profit’s new campus.
So far, thirteen service dogs have graduated from Christy’s program. Almost all of them now work with veterans.
“With our first graduating class, two of the veterans said that if it wasn’t for their dogs, they wouldn’t have made it through the pandemic,” said Christy. “I don’t need a thank you. Just knowing that we made a difference and basically saved their lives is enough.”
Christy has a new service dog called Doug, so there’s no stopping her! This is one wounded veteran who understands that a life spent with animals is a life well spent.
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