After years of trauma, Marine vet finds help with little dog

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CHELMSFORD (AP) >> Sitting on the couch in their Chelmsford home, Gino sits in Kari Rosado's lap and lovingly nuzzles her.

As she gently strokes the small dog's fur, all of the anxiety Rosado was feeling slowly fades away.

When she experiences night terrors — brought on by many instances of sexual abuse over the years — Gino wakes her up. He shakes his collar and tags, stands on her chest and licks her face.

"I put the weight of the world on him," Rosado said. "He's the only safe place for me."

Gino — or Mr. Giovanni Luciano to those who just meet him — is an unlikely therapy dog for the Marine Corps veteran. Gino has no training as a service dog — he instinctively knows what to do.

Rosado wasn't looking for a pet when she found Gino.

But what she found was an unparalleled companion she credits with saving her life. At the time, Rosado was coaching Pop Warner cheerleaders. One day in 2007, she brought the girls to a local mall and they wanted to go into the pet store. Rosado protested, because she hates seeing animals in cages, but the girls convinced her to join them.

She immediately felt a strong connection with the little Yorkshire terrier. When the dog's papers revealed his birthday was April 13 — the same as hers — it sealed the deal. She knew she had to take him home.

Rosado, 39, suffers from severe anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder from a number of unfortunate events throughout her life.

As a child growing up in Bridgeport, Connecticut, Rosado was physically and sexually abused by a family member. Rosado moved to Virginia for her senior year of high school, wanting a fresh start. She looked up to the many members of her family who had served in the military and law enforcement, and thought of them as protectors. Rosado wanted to follow in their footsteps and become a protector, too.

She joined the Marines shortly after graduation in 1994 and married a fellow Marine at 19. But her status as someone's wife didn't protect her from the sexual assault and harassment she would suffer at the hands of her superiors and fellow soldiers. She was touched inappropriately and pressured into committing sexual acts on numerous occasions. Rosado said she felt powerless to stop it. To this day, she feels uncomfortable being anywhere with a closed door.

"Every time I was abused, it was behind a closed door," she said.

One gunnery sergeant was particularly abusive and controlling. When Rosado learned she was going to leave North Carolina's Camp Johnson for Okinawa, Japan, the sergeant used his authority to send her to Camp Lejeune instead, to keep her close by. Later, after she was discharged from the military, the same man tracked her down to Florida and showed up on her doorstep. A frightened Rosado locked the door and threatened to call police. She never heard from him again, but the fear remained.

In 1995, Rosado and her husband learned they would welcome their first child into the world. It should have been a happy time, but it became a source of further harassment for Rosado.

During a field operation, Rosado began to bleed. She went to her superior for help and begged for medical attention.

"He told me, 'I'm not going to shut down an operation because you're knocked up,' " she recalled.

By the time Rosado was able to see a doctor, she was told she had miscarried.

Two months later, Rosado was pregnant again. At five months and experiencing other medical conditions, she was discharged on May 31, 1996.

Her daughter Siana, now 19, is her miracle child. The complications from the miscarriage and immediate pregnancy afterward left her unable to have other children.

Siana, also drawn to the military, is a member of the Air Force ROTC at her school.

After two divorces and a string of abusive relationships, Rosado wanted to die. She contemplated suicide. But Gino brought her back from the precipice.

In 2010, Rosado met the first man she truly felt safe with, an executive chef from Framingham. But only a few months into their relationship, he was killed in an accident in Natick. Devastated, she shut herself out from the rest of the world.

In 2011, Rosado had a brief relationship with a local member of law enforcement who was first a friend. Rosado said the man's ex-wife spread vicious rumors about her. She felt everyone thought she was a monster. She again retreated into loneliness, which was only made worse when the relationship failed.

Throughout all of this, Gino was her constant, her source of strength and comfort.

It wasn't until October 2014 that Rosado felt ready to socialize with the outside world again.

She began going to Manchester to attend meetings of The Marines of New Hampshire, a group of veterans who help each other with social anxiety and the struggle of fitting into civilian society after military service.

At first, Rosado just listened. But soon she was able to begin talking about her anxiety and developed a camaraderie with her fellow servicemen and women she met there.

She and other members of the group brought their service and therapy dogs with them, and soon an idea was born: They would work to assist other veterans around the country to combat anxiety and help procure service dogs for them. They have been raising funds for Paws for Veterans, a Florida-based organization that rescues, rehabilitates and trains dogs to assist individual veterans with the particular difficulties they face: physical, mental and emotional.

The New Hampshire group blossomed into the The Marines of New England, and Rosado now serves as an ambassador to other Marine organizations around the country. Next week, Rosado will travel to California to help groups there with raising money for veterans and getting them they help they need.

"It's about getting them out of the house and interacting with people, instead of being at home with the hurt and pain and memories of the things they saw," Rosado said. "I never went to Iraq or Afghanistan. I can't imagine what they live with on a daily basis. My trauma is nothing in comparison to what they had to go through."

Despite her traumatic experiences, Rosado said she feels no ill will toward the Marine Corps. She only wishes she had served with the Marines she knows now. She considers them her brothers and sisters. She would do anything for them, and she knows they would do the same for her.

Rosado said she also plans to go back to school to earn a bachelor's degree in psychology and a master's in social work, so that she may one day help others who suffer through many of the same things she has experienced.

"I overcame so much in my life, and I'm able to go out now, and be a part of something and do good," Rosado said.

Information from: The (Lowell) Sun, http://www.lowellsun.com


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