Dog helps Tomah veteran deal with PTSD

Rex helps Gulf War vet Andrew Cottrill

Everyone knows a dog is man’s best friend, but that might be an understatement to Gulf War veteran Andrew Cottrill. The Tomah vet has a service dog like no other.

Cottrill suffers from post-traumatic-stress-disorder, and just the smallest trigger, like a tornado siren test can send his mind right back to his time in combat overseas.

With him through all of the stress is Rex, a specially trained service dog.

“He calms me down when I get tense,” Cottrill said.

Helping him snap out of the horrible scenes of Desert Storm the retired hospital corpsman first class often relives.

“Some of the things I saw while I was there were things you would only see in movies, and then it hits you and you realize this is real, and I’m not in a movie,” Cottrill said.

For years, Cottrill struggled to cope with his memories.

“To be completely honest, I jumped into the bottle for a little while, I smoked marijuana for a little while; I was doing things that I shouldn’t have been doing,” Cottrill said.

“To see the pain that he goes through, I just wait until he’s ready to say something. When he’s ready to talk about it, I listen, but I don’t ask,” said Rebecca Cottrill, Andrew’s sister.

Instead of asking, Andrew’s sister decided to do something, and contacted a family on Facebook who was donating a German shepherd.

“I felt kind of like a nuisance once in a while because I kept messaging them, trying to get them to see what a serious situation this was,” Cottrill said.

Her persistence worked.

Andrew got Rex in January and within weeks they were training together at Paws-4-Independence in Caledonia.

“To watch those two together, it’s just amazing to see the difference of Andrew when I first met him,” said Marcie Jenson, the director of Paws-4-Independence.

And this four-legged hero has been able to bring a bigger smile on this American hero, than he’s had in years.

“He’s been sent to me for a reason, and I definitely won’t take that reason lightly. He’s a good thing,” Cottrill said.

Rex was donated to Andrew by a Mauston boy named Bradley Nootbaar. And Paws-4- Independence, a nonprofit has trained service dogs for 45 people, including 12 local vets.

If you’d like to donate to Paws 4 Independence go to its website,