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Pairing Pups and Veterans with PTSD

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By Debbie Gregory.

With an increase in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) diagnoses within the veteran community, the Department of Veterans Affairs is joining forces with non-profit Canine Companions to study how service dogs might be able to aid those struggling with the disorder.

The joint pilot program is launching at Canine Companions’ Northwest Training Center in Santa Rosa, CA, with the initial participants being chosen within 90 miles of the Santa Rosa facility.

The dogs will be trained in tasks including nightmare interruption, turning on lights, retrieving items, and supporting their handler in crowded public situations that might provoke anxiety for individuals with PTSD.

In the future, Canine Companions hope to expand the program to include first responders (police, fire and emergency medical personnel) with PTSD. They also hope to expand the program geographically.

The study will piggyback on a less formal program the VA kicked off in 2014, although this study will be more comprehensive and more tightly controlled.

“We believe that dogs can be trained in tasks that can help mitigate aspects of PTSD and help someone in their process of recovery along with other resources that exist already,” said instructor Sarah Birman.

Canine Companions will choose the dogs that will participate in the program based on their temperament, confidence and energy levels. They will need to be able to resist reacting to outside stimuli. The organization hopes to place some 20 dogs during the first year of the study.

“Service dogs are another tool that is available to veterans,” she said. “I think the more options that we make available to people the more people will be able to hopefully find something that works for them. PTSD can be an incredibly debilitating condition and really tremendously isolating, and so, if through these dogs we can make a difference in the lives of even just a handful of veterans, then it will absolutely have been worth it.”

Canine Companions has been providing service dogs for people with physical disabilities since 1975.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Staff Sgt. Brian Boone and His Canine Companions for Independence® Service Dog, Brindle

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By Brian Boone

There are 3.8 million veterans with a service-related injury in the United States, and I am one of them.

In 2011, I was on tour with the U.S. Army in Afghanistan when the truck I was in struck an Improvised Explosive Device (IED). I sustained injuries to my back and lost my leg below the knee.

During my recovery, I met a fellow wounded veteran with a Canine Companions for Independence assistance dog. He told me how beneficial an assistance dog can be for a veteran recovering from an injury.

Canine Companions for Independence provides highly trained assistance dogs that are capable of doing physical tasks for a veteran with a disability at entirely no cost to the recipient. Trained in over 40 commands, Canine Companions assistance dogs can pick up dropped items, open doors, turn lights on and off, and pull a manual wheelchair. They can also alert handlers who are deaf or hard of hearing to sounds in the environment.

I really needed a dog to help pick things up. I struggle to bend over and knew a Canine Companions service dog could save me from a lot of pain associated with my injuries. Assistance dogs can pick up items as flat as a credit card, as small as a coin, or as bulky as a prosthesis.

In September 2014, I was matched with Brindle, a Yellow Labrador/Golden Retriever trained by Canine Companions for Independence and provided entirely free of charge. Brindle is a character and adds a whole element of excitement to our household. My son, who has autism, loves Brindle; definitely a benefit I didn’t expect for our whole family.

Brindle goes everywhere with me and helps me by retrieving my prosthetic leg or grabbing his own leash. I didn’t realize at first how much a dog would be able to help me, but he is so well trained. Brindle has brought me peace of mind knowing that my prosthesis is never out of reach.

Since Brindle is helping me conserve energy and mobility by retrieving things I drop, I can confidently say that Brindle always has my back.

Hundreds of people with disabilities are on a waitlist for a match with a Canine Companions assistance dog. By supporting Canine Companions, you can Give the Gift of Independence – and Give a Dog a Job.

Learn more at cci.org/giveadogajob.