When Kody Jorgensen’s wife, Quatie, approached him with the idea of getting a service dog, he wasn’t sure that it was for him. ‘How will it help?’ and ‘Will it create more work for me?” were among Kody’s questions and concerns.
Five years later, and Kody says he can’t imagine his life without black Lab and Warrior Canine Connection service dog Derek.
“It’s a different experience for everyone, and for me, it took some time to bond with Derek,” said Kody. “It wasn’t immediate but, slowly yet surely, he got me doing things and learning about things I wouldn’t do before I got him. He’s made such a big difference in my life and my relationships that I have with other people. Now, I never want him to be away from me.”
Kody, who served in the Air National Guard for 14 years, served two deployments — the first in Iraq in 2009 and a second in Afghanistan in 2012. During the second deployment, Kody was part of a special 10-man agricultural team tasked with teaching sustainability best practices to the local villagers in Logar and Wardak Provinces. It was during a mission in Logar Province that Kody was wounded in a mortar round blast and sustained a traumatic brain injury (TBI).
Quatie was informed of the blast and Kody’s injuries, but it wasn’t until he got home from Afghanistan that she could tell that things weren’t right; he experienced debilitating migraines, nightmares and flashbacks, all of which were impacting his ability to work, sleep and function.
Shortly after, Kody went to the National Intrepid Center of Excellence in Bethesda for treatment. It was there that Kody participated in WCC’s service dog training program. Quatie said she could see a change in him when he interacted with the dogs, and that’s when she urged him to consider getting a service dog for himself. Although resistant at first, Kody filled out an application with WCC.
“Before Derek came along, it got to the point where Kody was pretty paranoid and was scared to leave the house,” said Quatie. “When I left for work, he would shut all the blinds and lock the door — going out to dinner or to church was pretty nonexistent. Derek has been phenomenal, he’s helped Kody more than any medication ever has, it’s been incredible.”
Since being matched with Derek five years ago, Kody has gone on to finish his Master’s in Animal Science at Oklahoma State — a pursuit he abandoned years before due to his daily battle with PTSD and TBI.
More recently, the duo has traveled with nonprofit Samaritan’s Purse to help with disaster relief efforts, where Kody says Derek is always a big hit.
“Even though he’s my service dog, he helps other Veterans in the process of working these events,” said Kody. “You can see the joy on their faces when they get to interact with him. Everyone enjoys getting to play with Derek and hug on him when we have some downtime.”
And Derek has impacted the entire family in a way they never imagined.
“We got to meet the real Derek’s [namesake] Mom,” said Quatie. “It was so phenomenal to meet her and just hear more about her son’s life. It gives us an opportunity to continue to say his name and talk about the special person Derek was named after — it’s just incredibly special to us.”
When asked to describe the impact Derek has had on Kody, he simply replies, “He’s like a kid and a spouse merged into one; I never go anywhere without him.”
Quatie adds, “We love having him [Derek] in our home. It’s amazing to see Kody and the progress he’s made with Derek in his life; there’s no way he would be where he’s at today without a service dog. It’s been a real healing journey and has made him a better husband and dad.”