Blogs: Hope for Heroes – “Pups with a Purpose”: PTSD Service Dogs

Sample Blog Story:  Pups with a Purpose : It Ain’t Nothin’ But a Hound Dog…But This Dog Can Help With Cryin’ all the Time

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Pups with a Purpose : It Ain’t Nothin’ But a Hound Dog…But This Dog Can Help With Cryin’ all the Time
(and other PTSD-related issues)

Service-dog programs like Puppies Behind Bars and Canines for Combat Veterans are having “pawsative” effects on our wounded warriors—helping them to reintegrate into society with greater ease by supplying them with prisoner-trained pups that are wired to please.

READ TEXT-ONLY VERSION BELOW  or read original post at Hope for the Heroes

Fido Finds a Friend in the Pen

Fido Finds a Friend in the Pen

Petco may be “where the pets go” but ” real” dogs –those that cost a small fortune to train but perform a service above and beyond the call of wagging tails or licking faces–go behind bars.  Programs  like Dog Tags: Service Dogs for Those Who’ve Served Us–a part of  the larger Puppies Behind Bars (PBB) service dog training program are providing much needed companion canines to PTSD-identified veterans returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Dog Tags” employs a rather unique training model: they use prisoners to raise puppies that then become service dogs for those veterans who qualify for the program.  Puppies Behind Bar’s first Dog Tag pup, Pax, was paired in February 2008 with Sergeant Bill Campbell, an Iraq War veteran who suffers from all the typical symptoms of PTSD--including panic attacks, severe depression, memory loss, nightmares and fear of public places.  Today, there are 81 PBB “incarcerated” puppies being trained inside six New York area prisons.

Thus far, the program appears to be a resounding success, thanks to a special Senate bill that was passed in 2009 especially for the purpose of providing these highly trained dogs to at-risk returning soldiers. Veterans and their therapists have reported drastic reductions in PTSD symptoms as well the end of chronic reliance on medication after receiving a service dog. Iraq veteran Chris Goehner, 25–a recipient of one of the dogs–was able to cut his PTSD-related meds in half. On top of that, his night terrors and suicidal thoughts completely ceased.

A Four-legged Antidepressant

Female vets–many of whom deal with their own unique issues such as the emotional aftermath of widespread sexual harassment and abuse–are also being given service dogs.  In 2007, CPL (ret.) Sue Downes (USA) was the country’s first female vet to be given a service dog after she suffered two leg amputations, a liver and intestine lacerations, left arm nerve damage, and also TBI and PTSD.

Downes credits her dog, Lila, with not only giving her visible assistance like helping her to walk with her prosthetic legs, but with invisible benefits as well. On days when Downes is down in the dumps, Lila makes her feel “up”—getting her to smile when it’s usually the last thing Downes feels like doing.

Lila helps with a lot of things: picking up things when I drop them, bring me things when I point to them, opens doors, makes me smile when I don’t feel like it. I have overcome a lot. Lila makes me feel at ease.” – CPL (ret.) Sue Downes (USA)

Pups turn Prisoners into Pussycats

Prisoners’ lives are also changed by training a pup. One inmate whose mother was dying was raising a PBB dog and was able to let his mother know that he had done something in his life that she could be proud of.

Gilbert Molina (watch above video), a once tough-as-nails gang member who was charged with second degree murder, became a veritable pussycat after going through the intense training with his assigned dog. Perhaps the most profound life lesson Molina learned was that training dogs was not unlike “training” humans.

The philosophy that we use is to show the dog what we want them to do rather than correct them when they do something wrong.  And I never forget that because I think that if we use that for people, for human beings, we could guide each other a little bit better, instead of waiting for us to do something wrong and correct us, show us what you want us to do.” – Gilbert Molina, inmate

Harnessing Hazel – Homeless Dogs Helping Heroes

Hazel Helps Her Hero … & Gets a Lot in Return

Not all dogs come from prison-training programs. Retired Sgt. Maj. Ronald Snyder got paired with a pup by Hounds 4 Heroes–a N.C. based-program that buys rescue animals for veterans suffering from PTSD. Snyder claims that he would have probably never picked this particular dog out of a line-up of stereotypical  service dogs (usually labs or retrievers).  Hazel–his assigned dog–is a one-year-old Pekingese mix whose past history of abuse has left her with more then her fair share of “issues.”

That’s fine with Snyder who understands just a little about trauma.  He spent years on a special forces team in Vietnam, training mountain people to farm and getting shot at by the Viet Cong. After his military service,  he spent 22 years as a detective for sexual assault and child abuse cases. Still, he admits that the challenge of “harnessing Hazel” may be his greatest one yet … beginning with getting her to literally stop chewing her harness.

Multi-Tasking Mutts

A Canned Response to her Owner’s Command

Whatever their background or who trains them, service dogs like Lila and Hazel are not alone in providing this kind of heroic service to their country.  Other “pets for vets” are doing wonders for boosting morale among the formerly demoralized with some dogs being able to perform as many as 80 service-related tasks. Those tasks range from more mundane chores like turning on lights (with its nose), retrieving food from shelves and even helping load washing machines!  For the darker manifestations of PTSD, these therapy dogs have been trained to perform functions like jolting a soldier from a flashback, dial 911 on a phone and even sense a panic attack before it starts.

But perhaps the most important role these canine companions fill for our returning vets is giving them something (though the vets would probably redefine that as “someone”)  to care about. This, in turn, gives these wounded warriors a needed sense of responsibility, optimism and self-awareness. And, of course, dogs being dogs, these trained canines with the smart-looking vests serve as needed catalysts for soldiers to meet people—to come out out their shell-shocked shell. This in turn provides a natural opportunity for distressed vets to talk about what ails them—a critical component for any PTSD sufferer on the road to recovery.

The Return of the Working Dog

On a personal note, it heartens me to know that the term “working dog” is finding renewed status. For too long Fido and Fifi have done little to contribute to society other than becoming arm charms for celebs or been anthropomorphized  by humans into some sort of mini-deities. This is in direct contrast to their  pioneer predecessors who did truly useful things like herding, hunting or happily guarding children. (We still have working dogs…they’re just a lot fewer of them.)

Dogs on the Dole

Instead, today’s pampered pets appear to be draining the average American budget at a whopping 41 billion bucks year!  (If that’s not idol worship, I don’t know what is.) That’s how much Americans spend on the care, feeding and entertainment of their pets. As a frame of reference, that’s more than the GNP of all but 64 countries in the world. (It also gives new meaning to the oft-quoted, Tea Party-inspired phrase “This country is going to the dogs.”)

Giving dogs there due by restoring to them their sense of canine pride is a good thing. Dispelling the “Let lazy dogs lie” myth, we’re training them to serve in the role they were created to fill: as man’s friend–at man’s most vulnerable.  Certainly our nation’s heroes deserve these heroic canine companions who are doing their doggone best to help our returning veterans navigate the often murky waters of modern civilization.

It Ain’t Cheap

At $26,000 a pup, training these service dogs is not cheap. Given a choice (which we aren’t), I’d designate a portion of my *tax dollars towards the training of a dog for a PTSD-suffering veteran any day over the millions spent on say,  funding pornographic “art” or 725,000 pizza machines for a California public school.

Most service dog training programs receive no federal funding but rather rely on individuals and organizations for support. I trust you’ll show your support for our veterans by choosing to give to any one of these very worthy organizations.

jenni keast

* Under the Service Dogs for Veterans Act, passed by the legislature in Oct of 2009, Veterans Affairs provides about 200 service dogs to former service members. Half of the dogs go to people with mental disabilities and half to those dealing with physical ailments.


Last related post... Dogs of War: Those Daring Dogs that Defy Danger Every Day

Read more about it:

Videos on service dogs…lots to view!

Puppies Behind Bars: Dog Tags Program for Vets

Paws 4 People
Hounds4Heroes (Trains rescue dogs only)
Hounds for Heroes (UK-based organization)

NEADSs (National Education for Assistance Dog Services) Canines for Combat Veterans program

Hounds for Heroes


Coming soon…next related post….Their friend Flicka: How a horse (of course) can help heal the wounded


About seekandfind

I'm a strategic storyteller/copywriter who is divinely wired to be idea-driven, strategic minded & cause motivated.

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