That’s life “before Chuck” and “after Chuck” for Dian Smith. Dian served nine years in the Air Force; she spent half of those years as a bioenvironmental engineering technician and the other half as a Ceremonial Guardsman with the Air Force Honor Guard in Washington, D.C. Her station assignments included March Air Reserve Base, Riverside County, California; Bolling Air Force Base, Washington, D.C.; and the Bentwaters Royal Air Force Base (now known as Bentwaters Park), near Woodbridge, Suffolk in England.
It was during her last tour of duty in the UK that she met, Mark, a DoD firefighter, the love of her life and husband of 31 years now. That was also about the time Desert Storm started. She and Mark both volunteered to travel to support U.S. military efforts, but both were held at their respective duty stations to help support staff.
In 1991, Dian felt it was time to get out and move on to something different; she left the Air Force and moved stateside. She became a veterinary technician, where she worked for a while, then she went back to bioenvironmental engineering as a DoD employee for several years.
In 1994, she and Mark had their son, Shannon Mark, who is now a DoD firefighter on the same crew her husband used to run all those years ago.
Life was moving on, but Dian wasn’t. She found herself experiencing severe anxiety and depression that prevented her from doing a lot of things. She sought help from medical experts.
“I was dealing with PTSD for many years and didn’t know it until I finally got diagnosed by the VA,” said Dian. “The diagnosis was a shock … I was floored. I had internalized a lot of things I had gone through in the military and didn’t even realize it.”
A doctor recommended she get a service dog. Not being a post 9/11 Veteran, she said she didn’t realize a service dog was an option for her. Her research yielded Warrior Canine Connection (WCC). It took a while but after applying, Dian was matched with Chuck, or rather, as she says, ‘Chuck picked her’ in February 2020.
“He’s been such a blessing, I can’t even begin to tell you how much he’s changed my life,” said Dian. “I wouldn’t go anywhere without a safety, which would mean a friend, so I didn’t leave my house unless I was with one of those 2-3 people, and one of them was my husband, and he’s a firefighter and he works 48 on, 48 off, and he teaches around the country, so I am alone a lot. Then I got Chuck, and I can go anywhere now. I can go to Costco … I can go anywhere, do anything because I have him. Being able to focus on him, helps me deal with my issues.”
Dian still participates in therapy and says Chuck is the perfect complement to all of them.
“Because I have Chuck, using the tools I’ve learned from my doctors, coupled together is much more effective,” said Dian. “When I’m stressed, he recognizes that and alerts me by nudging my hand with his nose. If I don’t react to that, he’ll jump up and let me know. We’re just so in-tune with each other.”
Flying? That wasn’t an option without medication before Chuck. Now, it’s a safe space with him by her side.
When he’s not working, Dian says Chuck’s a regular dog who enjoys playing with her other two pet dogs, Sawyer and Tallulah. But no matter what, Chuck’s always somewhere nearby. The two can regularly be found at church together, where the duo manages guest services and they also volunteer with another local program that helps others through equine therapy.
Dian says life is a beautiful journey and that she wouldn’t trade her earlier experiences for the world but that she’s happy to be in a good place — with Chuck right by her side every step of the way.
You can follow Chuck and Dian’s adventures together on Facebook. Next month marks Chuck’s fourth birthday, so be sure to follow along, as Dian promises there will be a celebration complete with homemade doggie cookies and plenty of birthday photos.