"As a mom, you feel like you have to cry in the shower or hide in the pantry," Navy veteran Aurora remembers keeping her darkest days from her family.
She had survived military sexual trauma. She told herself she could survive this.
“I still had to be a present mother, but then I would come home and collapse. I had headphones, and I’d sit in a corner and put a blanket over myself.”
It finally reached a tipping point.
“It took so much energy to exist and stay. I didn’t have a lot left over,” she said.
Making a Difference
Starting in high school, Aurora always had big dreams of making a difference.
“I was the annoying petition-starter kid,” she laughed at the memory.
After graduating, she passed up a full-ride scholarship to her local university, pursuing a military career instead.
“I went to A-school, and I graduated top of my class,” she said. “I participated in the honor guard, and it was the shining star of my entire experience.”
To Aurora, the group selected to honor those fallen in war represented an opportunity to be a part of something bigger — something good.
“It was really great and horrible at the same time,” she said.
She remembers one soldier’s ceremony vividly.
“You fold the flag, put the gun casings in it, and you present the flag to the nearest family member. You would get a head’s up who you were speaking to,” she said.
She’d been told it would be the fallen soldier’s wife.
“We’re in formation, and I approach,” she said.
It wasn’t his wife.
“It was his son. He was six or seven.”
“To be the one to come with the flag and kneel in front of that little boy — that is seared in my memory. In that moment I felt like I was doing something truly good.”
She was making the difference she’d dreamed of in high school.
"To be the one to come with the flag and kneel in front of that boy — that is seared in my memory."
Betrayed by Family
But not everything in the Navy was as she had imagined.
“That was the good part of my experience,” she said.
During her time of service, Aurora was violently sexually assaulted, leading to numerous lingering injuries, including hearing loss, short-term memory damage, a weakened knee, and a damaged trachea.
But these wounds went even deeper.
“The best part about the military is the family feeling. Then you’re betrayed by someone in the family,” Aurora said. “That’s what makes something like this so devastating,”
Her injuries left her no choice. She had to report it, but she said she almost wished she didn’t.
“You have to relive it so many times just to get someone to hear you and believe you, but still nothing happens,” her eyes filled with tears.
“There’s no point in replaying the trauma over and over again only to find out nothing will happen.”
No, she hadn’t been drinking alcohol. Just a Pepsi. Yes, she told him to stop.
Aurora found herself pushing it down, suppressing her trauma until there were no more distractions.
“You shoulder it and march on, and you get into this survival mode, especially while you’re still in the military,” she said.
Then you're betrayed by someone in the family," Aurora said. "That's what makes something like this so devastating."
Why Can't I Be Happy?
Only when she had a moment to settle down and breathe, did it really come to the surface.
“When I finally wasn’t struggling as much, and I felt solid and steady and safe — and loved — that’s when it got worse,” she said.
Aurora, a Navy veteran, was also a mother and a wife.
“I felt guilty, because I had this life that people would kill for. I should have been the happiest I’ve ever been,” she said.
“What’s wrong with me?” she wondered. “Why can’t I be happy?”
Still in a military mindset, she told herself to shake it off.
“If I didn’t say it out loud, then I wouldn’t have to deal with it,” she said. “I could pretend it didn’t happen.”
She hadn’t even told her husband of the attack.
“I didn’t want to tell him. I felt like he would look at me different. Like I would be dirty,” she sucked in a breath.
“That’s such a hard thing to say. I thought he would think of that when we were together,” her eyes were glassy. “I didn’t want him to feel pity or treat me differently.”
"I felt like he would look at me different. Like I would be dirty," she said.
One day, she had no choice but to face it head on.
Despite the constant need to count exits and track people’s movements, she packed up the kids for their weekly trip to Walmart. She had made it roughly ten minutes strolling through the store before she found herself frozen, plastered to the ground in the middle of the toilet paper isle — hyperventilating.
“That’s when I knew something bigger was going on,” she said.
“After that, it became actual flashbacks. It was almost like sensory overload where everything just shut off,” she remembered. “My vision came in, and the sounds that I heard were from what happened before. They were sounds of my memory.”
It was clear. She was not OK.
“By that point, my kids were starting to notice,” she said. That’s when she knew it was time. She finally told her husband.
But for Aurora, once she acknowledged it, there was no going back.
“We say to the kids all the time, “If you’re unhappy, change something. Complaining doesn’t do much,’” she laughed.
Much to her dismay, her husband turned the tables — it was her turn to change something.
Time to Change
For the first time since her attack, she started researching treatments.
“I had avoided the VA and everything military like the plague,” she said. “I didn’t want those memories, and I didn’t want to sit in the waiting rooms with military men.”
At the time, she didn’t fit the stereotypical ‘PTSD mold.’
“When you think of a veteran with PTSD, you think of a man, normally,” she said. “You also think of horrible physical injuries. Sometimes you think anger and violence.”
“There have been times when I wish you could see my disability,” she said.
After trying out numerous treatments, including various therapies and centers, she came across K9s For Warriors in a Facebook group for women with military sexual trauma.
In August of 2021, Aurora made the trek from her ten-acre farm in Virginia to K9s For Warriors’ headquarters in Northeast Florida.
“I almost turned around twice on the drive down there,” she remembered. “Part of PTSD is hypervigilance and needing to know everything, so I feel safe. That was not what was happening. I was terrified.”
“I was worried about the locks on the doors and windows. I was afraid of the people I’d be with. I was worried about eating the food,” she said.
Despite everything, she made it. She made it to Dog Day — the day she’d finally meet her Service Dog.
“My first memory is getting Snickers,” she said. “Up until that point it was full on fight or flight.”
Snickers, a goldendoodle who had been donated and lovingly raised by a volunteer puppy-raiser, had trained his entire life for this moment.
It was an emotional meeting.
“When I got Snickers, I was crying. I don’t think I was even able to speak,” she said.
"My first memory is getting Snickers."
One Last Thing
It was a perfect match. But there was still one thing on Aurora’s mind.
“Leaving my kids,” she sighed. “I felt like they would find out they didn’t really need me. That there was no point of me.”
Being a mother is tough on a good day, but throw PTSD into the mix, and it was just too much.
“We have hard days where we wake up and think, ‘I’m ruining these children.’ I don’t want to be a thing they have to worry about or take care of,” she said. “I felt like a poser, and I thought anyone could take my place.”
It was something that weighed heavy on her heart.
One week into Aurora’s training at K9s For Warriors, her family called to celebrate her oldest daughter’s 17th birthday. She was the stoic of the family — she never shed a tear.
“She FaceTimed me to open her present from me, and she just started bawling,” Aurora said. “She told me, ‘It’s so hard without you here.’”
As a mom, it meant everything.
“That fixed that part of me,” she said softly.
Bruised Not Broken
While Aurora still deals with daily reminders of her trauma, Snickers has allowed her to live the life she wants again. She’s learned to trust again.
“I don’t have to look at every corner anymore because he does it for me,” she said. “I’m able to take a step back and trust enough that he’s got it.”
As a mother who’s suffered sexual assault, she said she will probably always worry about her children.
“It’s a huge balance to fight with my PTSD brain and my worrying mom brain,” she said. “I have to check myself, because I don’t want to put my trauma on them.”
She’s come to terms that it’s OK to show her vulnerable side. It might just be a good thing.
“As a mom, you feel like you have to cry in the shower or hide in the pantry. I think it’s really important for moms to know that it’s healthy for your kids to see that you make mistakes and that you cry sometimes.”
Because, while she may have been bruised, she is not broken.
“When you cut yourself, you will heal. That scar is stronger than the skin that was untouched. You come back from that, and it makes you stronger,” she said.
Aurora stands strong not only for her kids, but also for herself.
“I’ve found out from many years of healing that I am stronger than I thought, and I’m not fully broken.”
"I've found out from many years of healing that I am stronger than I thought, and I'm not fully broken," she said.
Aurora and Snicker’s Graduation Date
He was donated by Snickersdoodles Kennels in Weir, TX
Quentin & Ellen Walsh and the Lt. Dennis W. Zilinski II Memorial Fund
Snickers was the Walsh’s family pet for 15 years
Foar From Home
Snickers was puppy-raised, and during his upbringing, he attended many Foar From Home community events, becoming a mascot of sorts for their efforts.