By Debbie Gregory.
Dogs have always been called “man’s best friend” as they are known for their loyalty and companionship. Voltaire wrote, “It seems that nature has given the dog to man for his defense and for his pleasure. Of all the animals it is the most faithful: it is the best friend man can have.”
Walter Reed National Medical Center is currently using dogs as companion therapists for Veterans needing help adjusting to civilian life. A three-year-old yellow Labrador retriever named Ron is one of their dogs.
Dressed in a Navy camo harness, Ron is one of the first service dogs to graduate from the training program of Warrior Canine Connection. While not all of the dogs make it through the training and graduate, the ones that do get placed with a permanent companion, or “career,” as the trainers refer to it. They are placed as service dogs for mobility-impaired Veterans, therapy dogs at medical centers, and even as military family support dogs, where their job is to help the family adjust to their service member’s PTSD. The dogs that don’t graduate still make great pets.
Ron, who was in Warrior Canine Connection’s first graduating class, can sense when his companions need soothing. He will fulfill their needs by lying at their feet, putting his head in their laps, or doing some tricks to lighten the mood.
As to why the dogs have such a positive impact on those they work with, Capt. Bob Koffman (Ret.), chief medical consultant at the nonprofit said, “It possibly has to do with their incredibly keen sense of smell and whatever neurotransmitters or hormones we release. We’re looking at the biomarkers that are released and the chemical reactions that they’re cuing from.”
Since 2011, when Warrior Canine Connection was founded, 57 dogs have participated in the program, with 11 being placed in careers. Their third and largest class will be graduating come September.
Their efforts have helped 3,000 service members, and they aren’t slowing down, with most of the dogs in the first class having found success.
A black lab named Birdie was lucky enough to keep his foster parent. During his training, Birdie stayed with Marine Veteran Jon Gordon. Gordon, who suffers from PTSD and TBI, had driven over three roadside bombs in six weeks during a 2010 deployment to Afghanistan. The two bonded so strongly that Gordon was able to keep Birdie as his placement dog. They live in Michigan, and teach classes about service dogs at the local VA.
Birdie comforts Gordon in his sleep, and has been able to help Gordon better himself as a father to his 8-year-old daughter.
“Before him, I was in a stalemate, a pity party, thinking. ‘Why did this happen? Why did I get blown up?’ ’’Gordon said. “Now I see that I need to move forward.”
As with other service dogs, Birdie has made Gordon’s life more tolerable.
We often thank servicemen for their sacrifices for the country, and now we would like to thank the dogs for their services in assisting our wounded warriors back to a comfortable civilian life.
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Military Connection: Canine Connection Therapy Helps Wounded Warriors: By Debbie Gregory