Service dog gives Jacksonville veteran second chance at the holidays

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The number 22 may not mean anything to most people, but it’s a stark statistic in the military. Twenty-two represents the number of veterans a day who commit suicide.

It was also a number Alyssa Petterway came very close to back in October. “Please don’t let me be 22,” she pleaded with the veteran suicide hotline. “I didn’t want to die, but I genuinely thought that was my only option to make it all stop.”

Petterway found herself alone in the closet. Her only lifeline was the veteran suicide hotline after she had cut her friends and family off. “I didn’t want them to know how bad it was,” Petterway told Action News Jax’s Robert Grant.

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The holidays became an especially challenging time for the mother of four while she was battling depression. But there was a time when Christmas lights brought her joy.

“I thought Christmas and the holidays were absolutely everything. I loved being with my family.” Petterway always taught her children to overcome any bumps they encountered. That life lesson is one she knows firsthand.

Petterway, a California native, was the first female in her family to enlist.

“I was very mission-oriented,” she said. “I wanted to be there for my shop, my junior sailors.”

She had given everything to the Navy, but in 2017, the Navy took everything from her. “It took me away in a way I didn’t know I could be taken away,” she said.

2017 was the year Petterway became the one in four women a year sexually assaulted. But she didn’t let that statistic become her reality. Petterway did not become number 22 back in October.

A new lease on life came with four legs and a leash. His name is Ace.

“Immediately, I had hope. And that’s something I hadn’t had in a long time. That everything would actually be OK.”

Ace is Alyssa’s service dog, which she got from K9s For Warriors. She graduated from the program in October, the same time she nearly committed suicide.

“There’s always a reason. You just have to find it,” Petterway said. Ace was her reason to keep pushing. Now she can again see the light during the holidays and give her family a Christmas to remember.

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K9s For Warriors provides service dogs to military veterans suffering from PTSD, traumatic brain injury, and military sexual trauma like Petterway’s.