Imagine walking through the parking lot of your local grocery store. A car door slams shut. Startled at first, you continue making your way towards the store entrance. Once inside, you make a beeline to Aisle 6 and reach for your favorite pint of ice cream. Out of nowhere, a metal can hits the floor and starts to roll. “Thank God that wasn’t me!” you mutter softly as you breathe a sigh of relief. You might even chuckle when you hear the proverbial “Cleanup in Aisle 4” announcement. These scenarios are pretty common and many of us don’t give them a second thought.
This may not be the case for our wounded warriors. Oftentimes, soldiers return home with debilitating conditions that affect their everyday life. For instance, when suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), countless things may trigger mental chaos at any moment. Sudden sounds could easily take veterans back to some of the worst moments in combat. A car door slamming or a can falling off a shelf are just two examples. The crippling effects of PTSD cause many to lose hope, fearing they will never ‘feel normal’ again.
Did you know Psychiatric Service Dogs (PSDs) have been a significant form of treatment for veterans suffering from PTSD?
Many organizations focus on training PSDs specifically for our beloved veterans. A friend recently had the opportunity to attend a fundraiser supporting an organization that trains shelter dogs to become PSDs. Think about that for a second… Dogs who likely suffered trauma themselves are picked from shelters to help veterans who are currently suffering. How cool is that?!
PSDs are trained to perform a variety of tasks in an effort to either prevent or alleviate their owner’s psychiatric disability. Let’s revisit our trip to the grocery store from a different perspective; meet our veteran, Frank and his PSD, Leo. In Aisle 6, Leo is trained to recognize abrupt sounds as a common panic attack trigger for Frank. It’s also important to note that although not a specific task, the mere presence of Leo helps Frank stay in the present moment. If Leo senses Frank’s anxiety start to escalate, he may utilize deep pressure therapy as a grounding tactic to relieve the situation. Now picture Frank and Leo waiting in a busy checkout line. Leo knows his human is uncomfortable and creates a physical barrier between Frank and others close by. Not only does this establish a ‘safe space’ for Frank, it also offers him the ability to breathe and work through a panic attack should the need arise.
Is a PSD the only option for veterans suffering from PTSD?
The short answer is no. The power of animal assisted therapy works in more ways than one.
Many veterans living in VA facilities often feel a lack of purpose that normally stems from depression. Some facilities participate in a program where dogs from local animal shelters are brought on campus. The program offers veterans an opportunity to teach these dogs basic obedience and form a bond with a four-legged friend. For both parties, this is mutually beneficial. Veterans look forward to teaching these ‘rescue rebels’ life skills because it gives them back a sense of purpose. Good manners provide the dogs a fighting chance for a better life outside their kennel walls. Unexpectedly, the program even benefited the veterans who did not participate. Although still quite withdrawn around other humans, every so often they were caught petting and talking to the dogs. These shelter dogs encompassed a new found hope throughout the community.
Sometimes even heroes need to be saved; in this case it goes both ways. The relationship between a veteran and a dog holds an immeasurable level of trust. The bond they share is truly unbreakable.
The Cap & Jack Pack thanks all of our veterans for their selfless service. We honor your wag-worthy courage, loyalty and commitment to our country.
If you or someone you know suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, please click here to learn more about the resources available.