De’Angelo Wynn ’19 is kind of a neat freak. As a former military man, he likes order and cleanliness. He didn’t grow up around animals and pet hair isn’t his favorite. The last thing he wanted in his life was a dog.
But then, a five-year-old English Lab named Jug entered his world. And Jug was a life-saver.
The help he didn’t know he needed
Wynn says it was “divine intervention” when the group Veterans Moving Forward, which provides service dogs to veterans, came to speak at Shenandoah. The group eventually connected him to Jug.
After having served in the U.S. Navy for a little less than eight years, Wynn suffered from bipolar and post-traumatic stress disorders, which, along with an Achilles rupture that required a year and a half of recovery, led to a medical discharge. During combat deployments in Afghanistan, Wynn was a bodyguard for chaplains and traveled on “Hero Flights,” where fallen service members were given last rites. Non-combat deployments in South Korea; Okinawa, Japan; New Caledonia; The Philippines; and Brunei, allowed him to participate in projects like teaching English and building orphanages and a school.
Wynn, a business student and president of the campus organization Shenandoah Veterans and Supporters, saw his body heal, allowing him to be a Crossfit instructor, host the popular weekly ‘Dance Party With De’Angelo’ on campus, and choreograph cheer routines for groups on the East Coast. However, he still required assistance. At one point, not long ago, he took 11 medications daily.
Healing more than the body
As soon as Veterans Moving Forward entered his life, things began to change.
Wynn said his first session with a service dog “was just awesome.” Afterward, he was more relaxed and at ease. Then, he and Jug trained with each other for a little under a year. They’ve been together, full-time, for about four months.
Jug, Wynn said, knows when he’s needed. Jug will turn on a light when he realizes Wynn is experiencing night terrors. If the dog senses a shift in his owner’s mood, “He’ll run and grab me my medication and bring it to me.” If a flashback begins, Jug will nudge him to break the experience’s hold. “It’s a miracle,” Wynn said. “It’s been life-changing. I’ve gone from 11 medications to two.”
Wynn said that with Jug, his anxiety is at an all-time low. Jug is with him everywhere: when he works in the University Registrar’s Office, at Crossfit, as a gymnastics instructor, as a cheer choreographer and as a Student Government Association vice president. Jug even went with him to San Diego, California, over the summer. Jug stood next to Wynn as he participated as part of Shenandoah’s team (one of a very few U.S. universities represented) at the Global Social Innovation Challenge at the University of San Diego.
The joy of an unexpected companion
Jug’s companionship has made a noticeable difference in Wynn’s life, said Assistant Registrar/Veterans and Technology Specialist Niccole S. Gatliff. “‘De’ had hidden anxieties about things that could make him apprehensive or stressed. Jug is able to refocus him and keep his mind occupied. It’s truly amazing to watch this dynamic duo at work together.”
So, if you see an English Lab on campus, wearing some trademark service dog gear, know that Wynn is somewhere close. And if you’re talking to Wynn, you know he’s feeling better with Jug by his side.