It’s no surprise that dogs can soothe, but researchers have evidence that bonding with dogs has positive biological benefits too, including elevating levels of the hormone Oxytocin in our bodies which improves trust, heightens a persons’ ability to interpret facial expressions, helps overcome paranoia, and has positive social-interaction effects. These characteristics are directly opposite of many of the symptoms returning military veterans experience when they suffer from PTSD. Mayo Clinic oncologist Dr. Edward Creagan says, “a pet is a medication without side effects that has so many benefits.”
Symptoms of PTSD, commonly known as posttraumatic stress disorder, can appear right away or take years to surface. Returning soldiers often experience it because their lives or the lives of their fellow soldiers was in danger and they had no control over the situation, they witnessed people being injured or dying, or they themselves were physically harmed. The shell shock and combat stress symptoms common among those suffering from PTSD are varied, but many experience suicidal thoughts, recurring memories and nightmares, sleeplessness, a loss of interest in life or feeling numb, anger, irritation, and fear. PTSD can thus impact their everyday life.
A trained PTSD service dog can provide a sense of security and have a calming effect on the veteran, help with episodes of depression, and be a loving companion. These dogs can sense mood and will know when it’s a difficult day. They give companionship without judgment, bringing joy into lives as they help heal emotional wounds.
As a wonderful bonus, it’s often a new lease on life for the dog as well. Many service dogs trained to help those suffering from PTSD have been on a difficult journey of their own and are rescues that were mistreated or abandoned and were living in shelters. Organizations train these dogs to alert veterans to potential PTSD triggers and to help them ease their anxieties. It’s a win/win situation when the dog is rescued, gains a secure home and has a purpose, and the veteran gets a companion to help diminish the emotionally destructive feeling of isolation.
If you are a veteran or know one who could benefit from a trained service dog, there are dozens of organizations who can help.
Here are a few we found online:
As we approach Memorial Day and honor those who have valiantly served and sacrificed for our country, it’s also time to salute the many organizations and non-profits making it possible for veterans with PTSD to be matched with a canine companion. There are many fabulous organizations in big cities and small towns throughout the country whom are dedicated to helping returning military rebuild their lives with help from an assistance dog.
More information and PTSD resources are available through the Veteran’s Administration website and locally at Veteran’s Administration offices in many communities.
You can also help by reaching out to these organizations, donating and volunteering. They need lots of help socializing and training dogs for soldiers, no experience necessary in many cases. It’s a beautiful way to show your gratitude to those who have served.