Healing old wounds: Group donates PTSD service dog to officer shot while on duty
ALEXANDRIA, Minn. — Rick Horman knew the exact moment his 23-year law enforcement career came to an end.
"I just got on my tractor and started cutting the grass," he recalled. "The tears are just flowing down my face because I knew I was finished. I was done as a cop. I hated it because I loved the job, but I just knew that was it."
The year was 1999, and Horman's breaking point came after a series of events in his career that resulted in post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.
Seventeen years after his diagnosis, Horman is finding some comfort in man's best friend, a German shepherd named Lily, thanks to an Alexandria area organization.
According to Horman, who lives in Alexandria, everything that led to that day in 1999 dates back to a call that came in 1985.
As a young and fairly new officer with the St. Paul Police Department, Horman knew the job was unpredictable. But on July 18, 1985, he found out just how unpredictable it really was.
After a long day of working at the Minnesota State Fair in 95-degree heat, Horman and his partner responded to a call of a domestic conflict.
Upon arriving at the house, Horman says he saw a man, later identified as 21-year-old Eric Schmieg, pushing a woman against the wall and holding a knife. As the man caught sight of Horman, he bolted.
Officers chased the man until he was cornered in another nearby house. As Horman was unlocking the front door for another officer, he heard a commotion. Schmeig had gotten hold of another officer's gun.
Officers tried to bring Schmeig down, but he was able to pull the trigger, injuring officer Dennis Abel. The remaining officers continued to struggle with Schmieg, and eventually found themselves in the home's bathroom.
"Just as we're going into the bathroom, he got the gun up and he shot me right through the arm," Horman said. "That really hurt. ... You don't look at a gun just as a gun anymore after you get shot. It's a cannon, that's what it is. It shot the artery right out of my arm."
Horman began bleeding excessively. He knew he had a limited amount of time to get control of the situation and get help. He and Schmieg continued to fight over the gun, until it went off again. At first, it wasn't clear who had been hit.
"I knew it takes one second to feel the pain after you hear it," Horman said. "I waited that one second and I thought, 'Thank God, he got it.' It was so close."
Despite being shot, Schmieg continued to fight with the gun, and Horman was shot twice more — once in a finger and once in his bulletproof vest.
Shortly after, Schmieg was fatally shot by another officer and Horman was taken to the hospital. He spent two months hospitalized, and doctors were able to salvage his arm.
Because of that call, Horman received the Medal of Valor and a Purple Heart. He returned to work a little more than a year later, but was never quite the same.
Though back at work, Horman still struggled. He spent the next 13 years convincing himself that he would not be shot again.
"I'd go to roll call and look around at all of these guys and I'd think, 'Well, who's going to get it next? Because it's not going to be me. They already got me,'" Horman said.
But then the day came that Horman realized that simply wasn't true. He and another officer responded to a suicidal situation, and while there, the man pointed his gun directly at Horman.
"He turned and he had that .44 magnum pointed right at my face and I could see the rounds in the chamber," he recalled.
Horman was able to duck out of harm's way, but the incident began to eat at him over the coming months.
"For the first three months (after that call), I was OK," Horman said. "Then the fourth month, it started getting rougher and rougher. I had to walk around to get enough courage to go in (to a call)."
It was then that Horman had the panic attack that marked the end of his career.
"Luckily I knew I had a problem, and had scheduled an appointment," Horman said. "I went in and explained what was going on and that's when the doctor gave me the PTSD diagnosis. He asked me, 'What do you want to do?' And I basically told him, 'I'm finished, I can't go back in.'"
A new companion
Two years after Horman retired, he and his wife Kim moved to Alexandria. Today, he still struggles with the effects of PTSD, and also has been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease.
Because of the PTSD, Horman rarely leaves home, as he prefers to be away from people.
"I cannot handle people at all," he said. "I don't like people. I just stay away from them. I dealt with so many people at work and every day was different. You didn't know what in the world you were going to get into."
But now he has a new companion to keep him company — a service dog named Lily.
Horman and his wife first began talking about the possibility of a service dog last summer, after finding out they can be helpful to those who suffer from PTSD.
"They can sense when you've got a problem, or if you're having a panic attack," Horman said. "They can sense that and help you out ahead of time by coming up to you, putting their head on you. They just know what to do."
As time passed, Horman became more set on finding a dog to help with his PTSD.
"Rick would say, 'I want a dog, I want a PTSD dog,'" Kim said. "I went online and was doing some research about dogs and what kind we should get. Then finally at lunch one day he said, 'I want a dog,' and tears started coming down. I was like, 'OK, well I better get serious about this.'"
So, Kim talked with a friend who connected her with an Alexandria organization called We Got Your Back USA, which supports law enforcement officials, firefighters and emergency medical personnel.
With the organization's assistance, the Hormans were able to find a dog and set up training for her to become a certified service dog. They brought home Lily shortly before Christmas.
Because of We Got Your Back's involvement, it was all free of charge for the Hormans.
"This was a perfect opportunity for what We've Got Your Back supports," said Craig McMillan, one of the founders of the organization. "There are things we need to pay attention to. This is part of that law enforcement family, and this guy just kind of fell through the cracks."
McMillan also contacted local law enforcement members, who now plan to visit Horman regularly and provide support.
"I contacted (Alexandria Police Captain) Scott Kent and said, 'Do you realize you've got a brother who lives right over here, and this is what he went through, and he's out there by himself?' McMillan recalled. "And Scott (Kent) said, 'Not anymore.'"
As a member of the police department, Kent felt it was necessary to reach out to Horman.
"I think it's important to reach out, especially to former officers like that who have struggled in the past and have a story to tell," Kent said. "Personally, I like hearing stories from other police officers, and officers around the country, especially when they're in your back yard."
McMillan stresses that it was due to the community's generosity that the purchase of Lily was possible.
"It's about realizing someone is struggling and pulling together as a community to give them a hand," he said. "Everyone needs a hand once in awhile."