In researching various treatment methods for PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), I’ve come across a trend that is surprising, endearing, and nothing short of wonderful: studies have found that owning a dog can be an effective treatment method for war vets suffering from PTSD.
According to this July 2012 article from Smithsonian Magazine, “The animals draw out even the most isolated personality, and having to praise the animals helps traumatized veterans overcome emotional numbness. Teaching the dogs service commands develops a patient’s ability to communicate, to be assertive but not aggressive, a distinction some struggle with. The dogs can also assuage the hypervigilance common in vets with PTSD. Some participants report they finally got some sleep knowing that a naturally alert soul was standing watch.” The article draws heavily from Paws for Purple Hearts, an organization that trains Golden and Labrador retriever puppies specifically to help wounded servicemen.
Also mentioned in the article is the Warrior Canine Connection, which goes a step further and uses PTSD-afflicted veterans to train dogs for other wounded service members. According to Meg Daley Olmert of that program, researchers are finding that bonding with dogs raises certain human hormone levels in humans, among them oxytocin, which “improves trust, the ability to interpret facial expressions, the overcoming of paranoia and other pro-social effects—the opposite of PTSD symptoms.”
Then there’s this article from Fox 40 out of Sacramento. It details the work of Kevin Cameron, who operates the Alpha K9 training center. A wounded Iraq war vet, Cameron trains dogs of many varieties to assist vets with PTSD. What sets him apart is that, while many other organizations can charge anywhere from $9,000-30,000 for a service dog, Alpha K9 does their best to provide wounded veterans with dogs for as close to free as possible.
Another program pairing dogs with vets is Pets for Vets, a nation-wide non-profit. Its founder, Clarissa Black, has personal experience with PTSD and uses that knowledge to help determine the needs of vets that apply for the program. According to their website, their team “interviews each veteran to ascertain what he or she is looking for in a companion animal; we pair this with his or her personality and lifestyle to make the perfect veteran-pet match. Once the perfect pet is selected for the veteran, the pet spends time in the home of one of our trainers who teaches the pet basic obedience and other valuable behaviors needed to live with his/her new owner. This can include becoming comfortable with wheel chairs or behaviors needed to help with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).”
Last but not least for this entry is K9’s For Warriors. They take shelter dogs that are slated to be euthanized and have them undergo service dog training to help veterans with TBI (traumatic brain injury) and PTSD. For every dollar donated to them, 94¢ goes to the veteran and to the service dogs, and only 6¢ from every dollar is used for fundraising and overhead.
According to the Department of Veteran Affairs, every 65 minutes a veteran commits suicide. Many of these suffer from PTSD, or from a TBI. This is a deplorable figure, and severely indicative of our nation’s failure to protect those who have protected our nation. Hopefully, with the help of organizations like these, those numbers will dwindle. Hopefully, with the help of man’s best friend, these soldiers will find peace.