Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Serving Our Heroes

For many veterans, a service dog becomes not only a life-
changer, but truly a life-saver.
Perhaps the most remarkable feature of our pets is their powerful ability to impact us emotionally and inspire both our thoughts and our actions. They seem to sense just how we’re feeling and know just how to cheer us up, make us laugh, or give us the support and companionship we need. The OHS has been involved in animal assistive therapy with its Brightening Lives program since 1980, providing animal visits to people across the city who benefit from the attention and affection of a furry friend. We know these animals are making a real difference in people’s lives.

Brightening Lives is just one of many types of animal assistive therapy programs around today. While therapy dogs are increasingly found visiting hospitals, retirement homes, schools and universities, and service dogs continue to provide help to those with various needs, a very special group of elite service dogs provide meaningful support to our nation’s heroes—our veteran soldiers.

Specialized service dogs support veteran soldiers with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) through their companionship, affection, and guidance in situations that may cause anxiety. As constant companions, these dogs bring calm and comfort to individuals whose past military experiences make the return to daily life challenging, with many experiencing stress and anxiety, flashbacks, feelings of isolation, and suicidal thoughts. For many veterans, a service dog becomes not only a life-changer, but truly a life-saver.

For veterans with PTSD, their canine companions provide unmatched support in virtually any difficult situation. In environments that are too busy and chaotic—such as shopping malls or busy streets—they bring a sense of calm and confidence to their human partners. Conversely, in conditions that are too tensely quiet for veterans, service dogs provide the company and affectionate distraction to relieve anxiety, paranoia, and flashbacks. And, they possess the power to sense when their human partner is beginning to feel stressed or agitated, and respond immediately and in the most effective of ways—proximity, attention, affection and, of course, lots of doggie kisses. In recent years, a number of veterans have spoken about their battles with suicidal thoughts, and attributed their success in this struggle primarily to their loyal, loving, and ever-attentive service dogs.

In May, the federal government announced a pilot project to research the impact of “psychiatric service dogs” on PTSD in veterans. While this research project is ongoing, some charities continue to provide the funding and training to prepare PTSD service dogs and provide them to veterans in need, free of charge. For these organizations, the evidence is already quite clear: a significant number of positive impacts have been reported in veterans who have been matched with elite service dogs, including increases in patience, impulse control, emotional regulation, sleep, a sense of belonging, parenting skills, and family dynamic. In addition, PTSD service dog have been linked to decreases in depression, startle responses, flashbacks, suicidal thoughts, and use of pain medication.

Service dogs are expensive and not funded by the government. One can cost up to $15,000 and take three years to train. But the evidence pointing to positive change in quality of life for soldiers due to the influence of a faithful service dog leads many to believe this is a service that should be available for our veterans. Therefore, today, in addition to honouring our nation’s heroes, we would like to pay tribute to the devoted service dogs that provide daily support to our veterans at home, and the dedicated organizations whose efforts have made these placements possible. We are grateful to have some exceptional canine companions serving our national heroes.

Andrea Tatarski
Co-ordinator: Humane Education

“Dogs are our link to paradise. They don’t know evil or jealousy or discontent.”
—Milan Kundera

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