Those of us who love our pets and for whom that four-legged roommate is a member of the family know that sitting with that friend after a bad day at work can be incredibly soothing. After all, if you’ve been yelled at, fought your way through traffic or been shoehorned into a subway car, with your back aching and your feet screaming, coming home to that wagging tail and bright eyes or that purring little cat makes it all a little less stressful. If you have ever seen a child hugging their dog and telling her their heartaches, then you also understand the deep comfort that just stroking a dog or scratching a cat under the chin can give.
During deployment, many of us rely on our pets and those of us who don’t have children at home rely on them for companionship. Now imagine you have the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress (PTS), the anxiety, the stress, the inability to sleep. [PTS and PTSD are the same, but the people in the community are now calling it PTS as they dislike being told they are "disordered."] I spoke with a veteran who told me that the only way he could sleep was if his dog was on the bed with him, that the only time he feels safe is when his dog is with him.
According to American Women Veterans:
Guardian Angels Medical Service Dogs, Inc. has recently partnered with the federal government to provide highly trained service dogs to the Veteran’s Administration (VA) for a multi-year scientific study examining the impacts that service dogs have on veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
They aren’t alone either. A program at Walter Reed – Paws for Purple Hearts – trained dogs for wounded warriors in wheelchairs. The trainers were service-members diagnosed with PTS, according to a story in the Washington Post.
The Paws for Purple Hearts program, which began two years ago, has drawn the interest of a cluster of scientists who think that the human-dog relationship may have measurable clinical impact on the health and well-being of patients, including veterans with PTSD.
The Dog Bless You charity provides therapy dogs to veterans with post traumatic stress. Their Facebook page recently held a promotion; for every 5,000 “likes,” they donated a service dog to a PTS-afflicted veteran. According to their web page, 18 dogs were donated from this promotion.
Veterans Moving Forward brings dogs in as therapy animals to Walter Reed and Bethesda Medical Centers, to give some comfort and accompany a veteran to an appointment, and psychologists claim that some veterans are more comfortable discussing their symptoms with a dog sitting next to them.
There are approximately 300,000 service-members coming back with PTS, and some have other injuries as well. Since service dogs have been helping the disabled to be independent, this is a logical step.
The Guardian Angels study, which is being conducted by the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital of Tampa, Florida, is designed to quantify exactly what it is that veterans with PTS can gain from having a service dog. 200 veterans who are being treated for PTS are going to become partners with service dogs who have been trained especially for them.
The results of this study, if successful, could mean that other veterans may receive a service dog. Veterans who are in treatment for PTS and who want information should call Carol at Guardian Angels Medical Service Dogs at 352-425-1981.
Photo credit: pmarkham via flickr