He put his hands around my neck, gently pressing his thumbs into a notch of my throat. And then he choked me. Demonstrating how someone feels when being choked. He asked me if I felt it. I tried to nod.
He was supposed to be an ally. I came to him for help.
A SERVICE DOG
I never thought about getting a service dog. I’m not sure why. It just never crossed my mind. Then, when my blood pressure started plummeting due to medication I was taking to control nightmares and night terrors from PTSD, my therapist and I discussed a service dog to detect when my BP was dropping below normal – so I could sit down; pull over if I was driving; call for help if needed. My husband, Scott, and I found a local organization that trained dogs along with their owners. I made the first phone call.
I spoke to Andy and everything seemed normal. Nice. On the up-and-up. He’s a disabled veteran, too, he told me. Then, he asked me something I hadn’t thought of…had I considered coming off the medication and training Cricket to wake me from the night terrors. No. No, I hadn’t considered that. “It’s scary to think about,” I told him, but I was willing to try. He assured me that she could, with his help, be trained to do just that. I spoke to my psychiatric NP. He was onboard. She’d be trained for other things as well, related to my depression, anxiety, and PTSD, but this was the most urgent need.
I met up with Andy at his office.
He held out his hand, palm up, and said, “Good morning.”
He repeated himself, twice.
I thought he was talking to Cricket because his hand was low and closer to her level. And his palm was open. He made eye contact with me and I realized that it was me he was talking to. I put my hand in his. There was no real, SHAKE. It was just held.
We chatted. He interacted with Cricket. I read paperwork. I signed paperwork. I paid for the first sessions that we’d have – group lessons. She’d learn commands in German. Andy kept telling me that he made it a policy never to meet with a woman alone at the office, but it couldn’t be avoided this time and he apologized. Again. And. Again. He then said something to the effect of, “With all this ‘ME TOO’ stuff, you just can’t be too careful.” He explained that he was also a pastor and ran his own therapy sessions and that I was welcome to join. I didn’t want to join.
I was feeling uneasy, but attributed the uneasiness to paranoia. That paranoia…I should have listened to it.
I was in his office for about an hour. Only Cricket’s company kept me calm. Kept me from darting. Had she been trained to recognize my anxiety, I think she would have behaved in a way that would have given me an excuse to leave.
When it was time to leave, he walked outside with me. Again, he held out his hand in the same manner. Open palm. Hand low. I put my hand in his again. Maybe it’s because he used two canes to walk that I was subconsciously telling myself that he wasn’t a threat. Not to me.
TIME FOR CLASS
A couple weeks went by. I didn’t mention what happened to anyone. Not my therapist. Not Scott. No one. Maybe this man just has his quirks. Maybe it’s all in my head. Maybe I’m the one with quirks. Maybe. Maybe not.
Finally, it was time for class. It was a Monday morning. January 7th. And, it was cold.
Cricket and I made the fifteen-minute drive. A part of me was worried that we’d be the only ones in the class. What if this was a setup?
We were the first ones to arrive, but we were early. I sat in the car with Cricket. Waiting. Waiting. Finally, other students and their dogs were showing up. I got out of the car with Cricket so she could be introduced to the other dogs.
One gentleman was going through the training a second time – training a second dog. His primary service dog was in his car. That dog got out of the car. He yelled at the dog to get back in. The dog didn’t listen. It ran around, not obeying any commands.
This was yet another warning sign that I chose to ignore. Chose to overlook. The dog wasn’t properly trained even though it had completed Andy's training program.
Andy appeared. He approached Cricket and me. He held out his hand, again, in the same manner as before. Again, I instinctively thought he was talking to Cricket. After a repeat of, “Good morning,” I realized it was me he was addressing, and I placed my hand in his…again.
Once everyone was present and accounted for, we filed into the training room. It was windowless, dark, cold, and smelled of dog urine and feces. We did as we were told – formed a circle with the dogs on the outside of the circle on our left sides. One dog was aggressive and on more than occasion made a show of force toward another dog. I’m glad Cricket and I weren’t next to him. Cricket was the baby in the class, at seven months old.
First things first. Andy recommends that the dogs all wear pinch collars. We all needed to learn how to properly size and place the collars on the dogs. He checked Cricket. She was good to go. He moved on, one-by-one, checking the dogs’ collars. Explaining to the humans why and how they were improperly sized and worn by the dogs. Cricket and I waited patiently. She sat like a good girl.
HE SQUEEZED HIS HANDS AROUND MY NECK
Then, Andy crossed the room and came over to me. He was explaining that the collars shouldn’t choke the dogs and that if they were placed too low on their necks, they’d choke. “Like this.”
He said, “like this,” as he squeezed his hands around my neck, gently pressing his thumbs into a notch of my throat. And then he choked me. Demonstrating how someone feels when being choked. He asked me if I felt it. I tried to nod.
I stoically continued with the rest of the class. Eyes glazed over, fixated on Cricket. Occasionally darting up to see the aggressive dog making another show of force. Gnarling his teeth.
I felt stuck. Stuck in this place.
Fight. Flight. Or freeze.
INCHES AWAY FROM HIS PENIS
I later learned that there’s a puppy class – it met right after THIS class. So, why were Cricket and I here? Why were we in THIS class?
As we got ready to leave, he did it again. Held out his hand, palm up. He said he’d see us next week. This time I knew it wasn’t Cricket he was addressing. This time I watched my hand as I placed it in his.
Inches away from his penis.
THEN I BLOCKED HIM
I owed him money for a hands-free leash I purchased. I told him I needed to go to the ATM. I drove away and never went back.
For an entire week I ruminated over everything. Uncontrollable thoughts. Thoughts that I tried to flash through my brain faster and faster, like the spin cycle of a washing machine – spin fast enough and maybe they’ll spin right out of my head.
I finally told my husband that I couldn’t, just couldn’t go back.
It took a lot of persuasive speech to keep Scott from jumping in the car and making his own show of force.
Then, I told my therapist.
Then, I wrote a letter and emailed it – explaining only that he triggered me when he put his hands around my neck and respectfully requested a refund minus the prorated class and the leash that I purchased.
I didn't mention the ‘hand shakes.' I didn't know how.
Instead of emailing me, he called me. Why? Why didn’t he realize that I said he triggered me and that calling me would just be more triggering NOT less. I didn’t answer.
He emailed…apologized. Stated that he never had any intention and NEVER would have done it had he known. He knew my PTSD was from sexual trauma. I confided in him during our first phone call. As someone who works with veterans with PTSD and someone who, by his own admission, is keenly aware of “ME TOO,” he should have known better than to put his hands around the throat of any woman, pretending to choke her, especially that of one who has been previously raped.
He said that although it’s not the organization’s policy, he’d refund the money.
Then he called again.
Then he texted.
Then he called again.
Then, I blocked his number.
Then, he sent me a friend request on Facebook.
Then, I blocked him.