For many people, the thought of a service dog brings to mind the thought of a disability that they can clearly see, but not all disabilities are that clear. PTSD is a stress disorder that is affecting millions of Americans every year. The current statistic is that about 8 million cases are reported every year. Of those 8 million cases, 6500 of our Vets commit suicide because of PTSD related issues. What if a dog, a constant non-judgmental companion, could ease those burdens?
Our Vets return home from horrors we can’t even imagine and are unable to even talk about the things they have seen. How do we help them process and heal from those traumatic events?
The very act of having a pet has mental health therapy written all over it. Not only does it give the handler someone else to live for, which in itself is huge, but it helps to get people back out into the world and reconnect with others.
Whether it’s taking the pup out for a walk, going to a vet appointment, or preparing food, all these acts give someone with PTSD a reason to get out of bed or even just out of their own head every day.
Having a companion that is right there with you to help you with the day to day tasks that we take for granted can ease the feelings of lost independence, and that is the underlying idea of a Service Dog.
PTSD dogs not only help with navigating through crowds of people, which for some can set off a panic attack alone, but they also help with things like alerting their owner to the presence of someone being behind them. Helping to wake them from night terrors. They can be taught to alert to when their handler is disconnecting from reality into traumatic memories. They can pick up medication pouches and bring it to their handlers as well as other items.
There are so many things that they can learn to do that we could spend all day just talking about that. According to the American’s with Disabilities Act though, a dog is considered to be a service dog if they are trained to help an individual with a task that helps to ease the handler’s disability. Many of these dogs do much more than just one task.
The physical and emotional support that these service dogs give is even capable of restoring family relationships that are in danger of falling to the effects of PTSD. When we must ask another person for help, we often feel like burdens. Even the most patient and loving family members are not able to be there 100% of the time. The dogs have a way of helping the handler manage their disabilities with that restoration of independence.
Not every dog that works with a veteran is a PTSD dog, some are Mobility dogs. They are trained to help with walking, or picking up items that are on the floor things that are someone with back or leg injuries would have a hard time with. They may be trained to help someone get up out of a chair or even jump up and brace someone from falling. There is no end to the ways that a service dog can help someone with a disability. We are even able to train them to help smell the change of sugar in someone’s blood that has diabetes.
Before Christmas, I was contacted by the local VFW Post 1991 about training some service dogs. They had been graciously hosting a Veterans Service Dog class that I have been teaching for several years now.
They had received a grant from the State of Arkansas with the Cares Act and wanted to better the life of some veterans that could benefit from having a service dog.
The Quartermaster Diana Rerucha and I had worked out a program for 5 Veterans. The adoption fee would be covered in the program as well as a gift card for getting them some food and treats. Their first harness and leashes would be supplied as well as a treat bag for training.
When we went down to the Northeast Arkansas Humane Society to temperament test some of the dogs there. They surprised us by telling us they would they would cover the adoption fees of an additional dog for a 6th Veteran. We have also had a puppy donated for a 7th Veteran.
As we get started with this new program my heart is so full of pride and joy that we will be able to safe so many lives during the next year and years to come. I look forward to this journey.