Fido Helping Veterans Suffering From PTSD
You’ve heard of a dog being referred to as man’s best friend, but what about a veteran’s best friend?
There’s a growing movement in Canada to match specially trained canine companions with veterans suffering from long-term post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), brain injuries and other service-related impairments.
Around 15 per cent of Canadian veterans suffer some form of PTSD, which is described as a “psychological response to the experience of intense traumatic events,” according to Veterans Affairs Canada.
Returning home from combat, veterans afflicted by PTSD can often suffer from depression, intrusive symptoms where smells or sounds trigger a negative response, and avoidance of day-to-day activities.
While the majority of veterans heal with the help of therapy and support from family and friends, a small minority suffer long-term debilitating effects from PTSD.
In this situation, combined with traditional therapy and/or medication, studies show a canine companion can offer some relief by lessening the symptoms, as well as the reliance on prescribed medication.
The dogs help by forcing the veterans leave their house, get some exercise and socialize in the world. They also provide a link to the immediate world and the future due to their reliance on the veterans for their care.
As with dogs trained to help people who suffer from autism, these canine companions can also recognize when veterans are suffering from anxiety or flashbacks and try to redirect their focus.
The positive results can be seen in an April 2011 article published in The Maple Leaf, a monthly Canadian Forces publication, when it came to retired Master Corporal David Desjardin, who suffered from severe depression after an operation stress injury.
“There was only so much that medication and counselling could do,” said Desjardin. “I hadn’t been out of the house for two years. I didn’t have any interaction with anybody other than my family and the rut was getting deeper and deeper.”
He was matched with a therapy dog through the Courageous Companion program and in a short time, the severity of his symptoms were alleviated.
“The animals are non-judgmental. They listen, they don’t talk back (and) they don’t ask questions. They just want to be near you, and that is very comforting.”
The use of therapy dogs for veterans stretches back to World War I, when German Shepherds were used as guide dogs for blind soldiers. In fact, the popularity of guide dogs for people afflicted by vision loss, evolved from these specially trained canines.
Unfortunately in Canada, the use of therapy dogs remains unfunded by the federal government so the wait list is long for these trained companions, which are provided free of charge to veterans.
The organizations involved in providing them, like Courageous Companions, National Service Dogs, Thames Centre Service Dogs, along with veterans associations like Wounded Warriors, rely on donations from the public to continue their work.