In 2018, Eric Haynes hit rock bottom. He had served 12 years in the Army, suffered a traumatic brain injury during combat in Iraq, and was dealing with PTSD as well as the collapse of his marriage.
Haynes was living in a domestic violence shelter when he received an unexpected call from the Wounded Warrior Project. At the time, he had already attempted suicide three times and was planning a fourth attempt that very day.
“They had asked me ‘have you ever thought about getting a service dog?’ And I said no, what are you talking about. They said ‘this could be exactly what you need,’” Haynes explained.
He liked the idea of a canine companion, but waiting up to two years for a fully-trained service dog was out of the question. Luckily, fate had more immediate plans.
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Two Wounded Veterans Meet
Haynes had always dreamed of becoming a singer/songwriter, so when he was invited to attend a songwriting workshop 1,100 miles away in Georgia, he seized the opportunity.
“At that point in my life, I just thought, ‘this is my new life.’” Haynes said. “I have to take a chance; I have to step out, so I did.”
While checking in for the event, Haynes met a woman named Tricia. As they chatted, she happened to ask if he knew any veterans. Tricia had been working with a retired military dog named Ciara for three years. The 10-year-old pooch had also seen combat in Iraq, and like Haynes, she suffered from PTSD due to her experiences there.
Haynes informed Tricia that he was a veteran and shared some of the struggles he was facing. They agreed that man and dog should meet to see if they would be a good match.
“She opened up the van and Ciara jumps out of the van and she comes over and she puts her big mitts on my shoulders and she starts lapping these kisses on me,” Haynes recalled. “That was the moment I met Ciara. That was the moment we became a team.”
Haynes became so caught up in the moment that he accidentally activated the car alarm button on his keys. Despite the loud noise (one of Ciara’s PTSD triggers), the dog never flinched. Tricia was amazed.
“She’s chosen you as her safe place,” Tricia told the tearful veteran.
“And I knew Ciara was my safe place, too. We’ve been inseparable ever since,” Haynes said.
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A New Leash On Life
With Ciara by his side, Haynes found new hope and inspiration. He pursued his music career, began counseling other veterans in need, and even fell in love. He is now engaged to be married.
Sadly, Ciara passed away on May 20, 2022, at the age of 14. Haynes marched in her honor during this year’s Jordan-Elbridge Memorial Day Parade. His goal is to use what Ciara taught him to show other veterans that there is hope after war.
Haynes is also working on an album that Ciara inspired him to write. It will include the song Tears of Joy, which he wrote the day he met Ciara on that fateful day in 2018. It goes, in part:
“I realized then and there you were a soldier just like me. You suffered greatly because of war, but now you’re safe with me …”