Veterans With PTSD Finding New Purpose in Life With Service Dogs
Many soldiers who make it home from war bring the war home with them. Each day in the United States, 22 veterans take their own lives, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The debilitating effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) lead many veterans into a lonely battle with themselves, facing flashbacks, nightmares, anxiety, hypersensitivity, anger, sleeplessness and depression.
This debilitating disorder affects 30 percent of post-9/11 veterans, the VA reports. And despite the alarming effects of PTSD, the American Psychological Association reports that more than two-thirds of these veterans never seek treatment. The negative stigma associated with mental illness makes soldiers hesitant to seek help for fear of appearing weak or vulnerable.
Nonprofit organizations like War Dogs Making It Home and Soldier’s Best Friend provide a cutting-edge approach to help these men and women. These organizations pair homeless dogs facing euthanasia with suffering soldiers seeking reasons to live in a beautiful, dual effort to save lives.
How Service Dogs Benefit Veterans
About 2.7 million healthy, adoptable pets are put down in this country each year, the Humane Society of the United States reports. Rather than waiting for a service dog to become available for home placement, the struggling veterans in these programs actively take part in the rescue and training of their dog. In most situations, the dogs are pre-trained to handle PTSD symptoms and know how to interrupt attacks of panic, stress and hyper-vigilance.
Weekly training continues once the vets are paired with their dogs. Oftentimes, these courses take place in a group setting among other soldiers dealing with PTSD, providing a safe and welcoming environment.
Why Service Dog Training Works
Unlike traditional service dog programs, organizations that pair shelter dogs with veterans are often offered at little to no cost, creating a financially approachable means of therapy. These programs offer an alternative to standard therapy and medication, and veterans tend to look at the process as a means of helping animals in need rather than seeking help for themselves—thus decreasing the fear of seeming week or vulnerable. Veterans feel a sense of accomplishment, knowing they’ve played an active role in saving a life.
How You Can Help
Spouses and family members are essential to a successful recovery. Follow these tips to increase the success of a service dog program.
- Get involved. Show your support by taking part in the training process. Help your spouse by staying up to date with the training methods being used. As an added incentive, military spouses often qualify for free tuition at Animal Behavior College.
- Keep your pet healthy. Your new service dog is not just a pet, it’s an integral part of your spouse’s healing process. Keep your new family member healthy by ensuring proper nutrition. Sites like Dog Food Advisor keep you up-to-date on food recalls, reviews and quality ratings.
- Make your home pet-friendly. Don’t let the added responsibility of a service animal infringe on your independence. Make this a positive experience for you, your pet and your soldier by adding a pet door for easy access to the outdoors. Electronic dog doors offered by PetSafe are equipped with self-opening technology activated through a smart-key attached to your pet’s collar. Keep unwanted critters out while giving your service dog the freedom to come and go independently.Another great resource for enjoyable pet products can be found here. You may also find that hiring a certified dog trainer can benefit the quality of your pet’s home life.Other Resources:
Train A Dog Save A Warrior (TADSAW)
Big Paws Canine Foundation