Therapy Dog Brings Hope and Healing to Shooting Survivor

Brandy’s comfort, love, and support are helping Mia feel safe again.

Mia + Brandy

Brandy is a smart, loving, energetic best friend — who is also a trained therapy dog. Today, her companionship and strength are helping Mia move forward after a shooting.

"Brandy just knew what I needed. She would comfort me when I was having nightmares and wanted nothing more than to be by my side, letting me know that I was safe and never alone. "

The morning of November 14, 2019, I was a happy 15-year-old high school freshman standing with my friends waiting for class to begin in the quad of Saugus High School in Santa Clarita, California. Moments later, I was the victim of a school shooting. I was hit in the abdomen but managed to get myself into a safe classroom. My best friend, Dominic, was killed. I spent days in the hospital, and while I was surrounded by my family, fellow student survivors, and a supportive community, I was particularly comforted by the wonderful volunteers who brought by service and therapy dogs to hang out with me.

Each and every one of the pups were cuter and more loving than the next, and my mom and dad knew having one at home could help me along the difficult road ahead. 

After I was discharged, I began to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I had terrifying nightmares, and I found that normal things (like taking a shower by myself) were now harder than they were before. My parents soon began to search for a dog who could help me cope with the new realities of my life but found that such animals were hard to come by. That’s when friends of our family sent us to Paws for Life K9 Rescue. 

Paws for Life is an amazing organization that brings hope and healing to humans and animals alike. They train shelter dogs in local prisons to be certified service animals. This wonderful program had been designed to gift these animals to veterans suffering with PTSD. Not only are these service dogs given to those in need for free, but the program also provides an amazing rehabilitation function for prisoners looking to give back to society in a positive way. 

Paws for Life had never given a service animal to a child who was a victim of a violent crime, but after hearing my story, they decided to make an exception. I was then introduced to Brandy, a beautiful yellow Lab donated to the program and trained as a service animal. Brandy is a smart, loving, and energetic dog, and I instantly knew she was meant to become part of our family. She and I were gradually introduced, but just seeing pictures of her made me happy during a dark and difficult time. 

As a surprise, the Paws for Life representative brought Brandy to our home on Christmas Eve. Instantly, we became best friends. Brandy just knew what I needed. She would comfort me when I was having nightmares and wanted nothing more than to be by my side, letting me know that I was safe and never alone. I’m working on my PTSD, but I get anxiety from time to time, and Brandy is a constant force of strength and comfort for me. She is my dream warrior. Paws for Life can be a lifesaving organization for those in need — just like Brandy is for me.

Each year, Petco Love Holiday Wishes campaign invites adopters to share stories of how their pets have changed their lives to give the organizations that they’ve adopted from the chance to receive grant awards. This story by Mia won Paws for Life K9 Rescue in Santa Monica, California a 2020 Holiday Wishes award.