The power of pet therapy has been well documented. Little wonder soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder have turned to service dogs to help ease their symptoms. The dogs offer emotional, physical and mental health support. On Veterans Day in the United States and Remembrance Day in Canada, those service animals are being honoured for their hard work to rehabilitate wounded warriors.
Tonight, A&E will debut its series Dogs of War, which shows the bond between shelter dogs and veterans adjusting after combat.
Jim Stanek (A&E picture below) is the inspiration for the series. After his third deployment to Iraq, Stanek returned with a traumatic brain injury and PTSD. Sarge, a specially trained service dog, has helped ease him into civilian life.
Stanek and his wife, Lindsey, founded Paws and Stripes taking dogs from shelters, training them with highly-trained specialists and matching them with veterans at no charge. Service dog costs can be huge – up to $60,000 – but they do it all with donations.
North of border, The Canadian Legacy Project has is matching veterans of the Canadian Forces with PTSD with service dogs. Dubbed Courageous Companions the group has been training service dogs since the first rotation of soldiers returned from Afghanistan in 2003.
“At that time there was no assistance for veterans suffering with PTSD and other disabilities,” according to MSAR, the organization behind the initiative.
Veteran Terence Kramchynsky (pictured below) said a service dog helped him manage his PTSD and depression, and even credits the animal with saving his life.
And the evidence isn’t just anecdotal. The organization has studied the relationship between the 371 dogs it has trained and paired with soldiers. The results are nothing short of miraculous for troubled veterans:
- Increase in patience, impulse control, and emotional regulation & stability
- Improved ability to display affect, decrease in emotional numbness – emotions less bottled up
- Improved sleep
- Significant decrease in suicidal thoughts
- Decreased depression, increase in positive sense of purpose
- Decrease in startle responses
- Decrease in pain medications
- Increased sense of belongingness/acceptance – less of the loner mentality
- Increase in assertiveness skills without aggression but confident
- Improved parenting skills and family dynamics
- Less war stories and more in-the-moment thinking – less flashbacks
- Lowered stress levels, increased sense of calm
These veterans also aren’t charged for the dogs, so fundraising efforts are significant. So today, when you pause to honour those who died – and survived – for our freedoms, consider the impact of our four-legged friends and maybe open your wallet.