Man’s best friend helps Devil Doc through PTSD, TBI

7 Apr 2010 | Lance Cpl. Victor A. Barrera

Camp Lejeune’s Naval Hospital was bustling with activity as a sailor walked throughout the hospital with his service dog, Sally, April 7.

Throughout the hospital heads peeked both around doors and corners to catch a glimpse of the yellow Labrador retriever.

Along with seeing the dog, a few people stopped to talk to the proud owner of Sally, Petty Officer 2nd Class Buf Kloppenborg, a Navy corpsman.

Through the Paws4Pets organization Kloppenborg has spent several months with Sally getting to know her and building bonds. The last step in the process of bonding was having Kloppenborg hold on to the leash for a set amount of hours in a process called umbilical training.

Within the organization dogs can be trained to meet an active duty or retired service member’s needs, said Terry Henry, executive director for Paws4Vets. Dogs can be trained to meet physical, psychological, emotional and neurological needs.

The training builds a greater bond, helps Sally focus on Kloppenborg and above all provides Kloppenborg with a sense of comfort and security.

“That dog is like a ray of sunshine when it walks down the hallways,” said Allison Kaminsky, director of the mental evaluations team with Paws4Vets.

Kaminsky was not the only person in the vicinity who noticed the change that came around people once they saw the golden dog walking around, Lt. Cmdr. Rebecca Webster, department head for mental health with the Naval Hospital and Kloppenborg’s doctor.

“It has a way of making people smile and brings out the best in them” added Webster.

Sally has this effect on everyone she meets, most of all, her owner.

Kloppenborg was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury and dissociative amnesia, which has made him forget the last 14 years of his life.

After four combat deployments, Kloppenborg, woke up in the back of his Jeep not knowing where he was heading to, where he lived or even who his own wife and four children were.

A few months later, Kloppenborg’s problems worsened. He became increasingly fearful of being touched to the point that he would shy away from patients and anyone else who came near him. After work he would stay home until the middle of the night and then leave the house briefly to grab some microwaveable food at a gas station nearby.

“Now with Sally I can look forward to going grocery shopping and eating real food,” said Kloppenborg.

Sally was a dog given to Kloppenborg by the Paws4Vets organization. The organization uses inmates to train dogs. Each dog fulfilling a specific role.

Sally falls in the psychological service dog category. For Kloppenborg she provides him comfort and works like a security blanket for him.

Sally has been given more than two years of training she has been taught to focus on Kloppenborg and provide him with a cocoon as soon as someone comes close to him, she will gently nudge him, said Henry. If someone is behind him and tries to touch him she will immediately bark.

“I have my own little side project going on as well,” said Kloppenborg with a smile. “I taught her how to put away her own toys.”

This plays a big role in helping Kloppenborg when he is out and about. He does not like public places and has a startle reflex that is associated with his PTSD.

“He is much more outgoing and less vigilant,” said Webster, who has been Kloppenborg’s doctor for more than a year. “I haven’t seen him smile this much and he’s much more hopeful about the future.”

Progress has increased so much that Kloppenborg is willing to let Sally help others who face psychological problems aboard Camp Lejeune. Although he will not be attending to the physically ill it will get him back to taking care of people, which is what he has always wanted to do.

Along with wanting to go back to helping people Kloppenborg has a positive outlook in life and is ready to start getting back into society with the help of his trusty companion Sally.

“I can now look forward to going out to a restaurant and having a real meal,” said Kloppenborg. “Freedom, that’s what I feel when I’m with Sally.”

For more information visit the Paws4Vets Web site at