Last month, American Humane celebrated the graduation of two veteran and service dog pairs from the Pups4PatriotsTM program in Raleigh, North Carolina. Mike and Ed spent a week training with their new dogs, Justice and Scout, on a variety of exercises and practices.
The Pups4PatriotsTM program provides specially trained service dogs for veterans with post-traumatic stress or traumatic brain injury. Once trained, service dogs can help mitigate symptoms associated with trauma.
According to Mike, who built a career in law enforcement after serving in the U.S. Armed Forces, having service dog Justice at his side is like having a partner, “watching your back all the time.”
After retiring, Mike began to process his years of service, both in the military and law enforcement, and, according to him, “things started to go off the rails… it hit me pretty hard. I became really introverted – I didn’t want to go anywhere. I was angry, depressed and anxious. So, we stopped doing things that we used to enjoy doing, going out for dinners and things like that.”
Unfortunately, Mike isn’t alone. Up to one in five veterans who served in Iraq or Afghanistan are diagnosed with PTS. The trauma of war can make transitioning to a regular, civilian life extremely difficult.
Ed hopes his new service dog Scout will allow him to live a more outgoing life. Ed reached out to American Humane after he realized he was having trouble leaving his comfort zone – going outside the house or visiting to the mall. Scout is trained to make him comfortable in those anxiety-inducing situations.
Service dogs perform a variety of tasks, including push and buffering. When a service dog pushes, they rest their entire body against their handler. Just the dog’s presence can help de-escalate a situation. For those who are uncomfortable in large crowds, or with people being in their personal space, a service dog will also act as a buffer between handler and strangers.
While service dogs are an invaluable asset to veterans with trauma, there are significant obstacles to receiving one. Properly training a dog so it knows how to act in crowds, public areas and help a veteran with trauma is expensive – costing up to $30,000. When cost isn’t an obstacle, wait lines can still be prohibitively long.
Through the Pups4PatriotsTM program, American Humane provides service dogs with veterans at no charge to them. To learn more, and fund lifesaving service dogs, visit https://www.americanhumane.org/program/military/.