When I watched the PBS documentary Shelter Me, I was astounded at the statistics that more returned servicemen are dying by their own hands than are dying in fields of conflict like Afghanistan and Iraq. These men and women are returning from active duty with difficulties such as post traumatic stress disorder and other anxiety-related problems. They have difficulty adjusting to life in peacetime.
Dogs are playing a key role in helping these ex-soldiers to recover and re-enter society. Shelter Me covers the stories of two veterans, for example, who have been paired with service dogs.
Here’s the YouTube trailer for Shelter Me:
The Boston Globe recently covered another story about the value of service dogs. Patriot Rovers is a charity that trains dogs to be service dogs for returned servicemen and women. The charity names the dogs after soldiers who have fallen in the line of duty. The charity’s website is particularly poignant, with photos of the dogs and an explanation of the soldier they are named after.
In the Globe story, Natasha Young-Alicea suffers from migraines and anxiety from the time she served in the Marines and has been paired with Josh who is named after a Navy SEAL, Josh Harris. Josh helps Young-Alicea in many ways. One particular heart-wrenching task is to sit behind her in the checkout line at the supermarket, to avoid people approaching her from behind. This proximity triggers anxiety.
Josh and his handler visit the parents of Josh Harris which also helps in their journey of healing.
These stories reinforce the critical role that service dogs play in our communities. If you have spare time or dollars, please consider supporting service dog charities in your area.
“A man who is good enough to shed his blood for his country is good enough to be given a square deal afterwards.”
– Theodore Roosevelt
Paws and Stripes is a not-for-profit organisation working to place service dogs with US war veterans who are suffering from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury. Through their efforts dogs from shelters are trained to have a new life as a service dog – all at no cost to the veteran.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has been going on for many years now, and with this the escalating numbers of returning veterans who are suffering from PTSD. Traumatic brain injury is often suffered because soldiers are injured by ‘improvised explosive devices.’ Sadly, insurance companies will not pay to see these men and women given the use of a service dog.
Jim Stanek is the co-founder of Paws and Stripes (along with his wife). He received injuries during his third tour of duty in Iraq and, during his nine months of treatment, he found solace in the presence of service dogs. In May of 2010, Jim and his wife unsuccessfully tried to find a trainer for their rescue dog named Sarge. They founded Paws and Stripes in June 2010 to fill the need for these types of service dogs.
Veterans are able to choose their own dog from a shelter before entering the training programme and part of their rehabilitation is their involvement in the training.
This seems like a very special organisation combining the involvement of service dogs with shelter rescue – all whilst helping a group of people in need. Visit the Paws and Stripes website to learn more about the programme and how to help. While there, read stories like that of Master Sargeant Justin Jordan and his dog, Dallas (pictured below – photos copyright Paws and Stripes).
Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand