Growing up on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, Naomi Gosdin had been an adventurous, happy kid. She loved kayaking, surfing, and spending time outdoors. But from about age 12, she started to become the victim of repeated verbal bullying at her middle school. In high school, it turned physical. Kids pushed her into lockers and even hit her in the face. As a result, she lost interest in outdoor activities, became withdrawn, and barely left her bedroom after school.
Her mother, Patty, was determined to help her daughter. “Witnessing Naomi’s struggles was heartbreaking for her father and me,” she says. “We understood teen years are hard, but our daughter was going through a lot more and needed help.” After being diagnosed with PTSD and seeing a therapist, Naomi still struggled with depression. “I couldn’t seem to get better no matter what I tried,” she says. Naomi loved the idea of a service dog, so Patty did some research.
Here’s what she learned: It can take two years (or longer) to get a trained service dog, and you have to buy an often-expensive one from an organization. “These dogs usually cost between $25,000 and $35,000,” says Gudrun Kaiser, a trainer and a family friend of the Gosdins’. Luckily, Kaiser volunteered to help find and train a dog—pro bono. For Naomi, it had to be a shelter dog: She’d volunteered with rescue animals since she was seven, cleaning cages, giving baths, and teaching pups good walking manners so they’d be more likely to find a forever. “Shelter dogs are like hidden gold,” Naomi says. “You’re giving them another chance to live a life, and they’ll give you a life right back.”
During her search, Kaiser met an emaciated and bite-scarred pit bull at a local shelter. The dog, a young stray found wandering the streets after Tropical Storm Irma, was at risk to be put down. “She came up, she cuddled, she kissed,” Naomi says. “Gudrun thought, This is the perfect dog for Naomi. And she was right!”
Twinkie (so named because she’s sweet on the outside and even sweeter on the inside) fit right in. “We all noticed the change that started—that day—in our daughter’s behavior,” says Patty. For six months, Kaiser helped Naomi train Twinkie, who ended up easily passing her service-dog test. The pup cuddles Naomi (now 18 years old) when she’s upset and provides physical contact or a physical barrier if needed to ease her anxiety. The act of training Twinkie has also been therapeutic for Naomi. “It’s given both of them a sense of accomplishment,” says Patty. “We are eternally thankful to Twinkie, who gave Naomi the confidence to look at life again with joy.”