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 who cost a small fortune to train but perform a service above and beyond the call of wagging tails or licking faces—go behind bars.  “Bars” as in prisons, not drinking establishments.  Programs such as 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 which then become service dogs for qualifying veterans. Puppies Behind Bars’ first Dog Tag pup, Pax, was paired in February 2008 with Sergeant Bill Campbell, an Iraq War veteran who suffers from common 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 programs appear to be a resounding success, thanks to a special Senate bill that was passed in 2009 to provide these highly trained dogs to at-risk vets. After receiving a service dog, veterans and their therapists have reported drastic reductions in PTSD symptoms, as well as the end of chronic reliance on medication. Twenty-five-year-old Iraq veteran Chris Goehner, a PBB recipient, was able to cut his PTSD- meds in half. Even better, his night terrors and suicidal thoughts completely ceased.

A Four-legged Antidepressant

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

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

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

Pups turn Prisoners into Pussycats

It’s not just vets who are helped by these service dogs. Prisoners’ lives are transformed for the better.  One inmate who raised a PBB dog was able to demonstrate to his dying mother that he was finally doing something to help others. The look of pride on her face “was immeasurable,” he later shared. “It’s what started me on the road to redemption.”

Gilbert Molina (see above video), a once tough-as-nails gang member charged with second-degree murder, became a veritable pussycat after going through 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. So 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 North Carolina based-program that buys rescue animals for veterans suffering from PTSD. Snyder probably would have 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.”

But that’s fine with Snyder, who’s intimately acquainted with 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 challenge yet … beginning with getting her to stop chewing her harness.

Multi-Tasking Mutts

A Canned Response to her Owner’s Command

Regardless of their background or training, 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, some dogs performing as many as 80 service-related tasks. Those tasks range from more “mundane” chores like turning on lights (with their nose), retrieving food from shelves and loading washing machines … to jolting a soldier from a flashback, dialing 911 and even sensing panic attacks before they start.

But perhaps the most important role these canine companions fill is giving our returning vets something (make that “someone”) to care about. In turn, these wounded warriors are given a needed sense of responsibility, optimism and self-awareness. And, of course, mutts being magnets, these dogs with smart-looking vests serve as catalysts for soldiers to meet people, making them less isolated. 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 serving as arm charms for celebs or being anthropomorphized into a sort of mini-deity. Compare this to their pioneer predecessors, who would herd, hunt or guard children. We still have working dogs … there’s just a lot less 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 per year!  That’s how much Americans spenmd on the care, health 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 phrase, “This country is going to the dogs.”

Giving dogs their due by training them to serve in the role they were created to fill—man’s friend, at man’s most vulnerable—is a win-win. 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. However, given a choice (which we’re not), I’d rather designate a portion of my *tax dollars to training dogs for PTSD-suffering veterans over, say, funding pornographic “art” or installing 725,000 pizza machines in California public schools.

Having said that, most service dog training programs receive no federal funding, but 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 worthy organizatio

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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