News & Thoughts > Pet rescue > New Hope for Shelter Dogs and Veterans: Battle Buddies Service Dogs

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11/17/2011 08:22:54 AM by HAFowler   Send Message to HAFowler  6766  views, category: Pets in news, Pet rescue view all blogs
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Veteran’s Day has just passed, and with it, increased discussion and education about the injuries, both visible and undetectable, that soldiers receive in service to our country. Modern veterans face unique challenges that soldiers in generations before them may not have experienced – or were called something else, like “shell shock.” Since Vietnam and especially the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, awareness and incidence of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) has increased exponentially.

PTSD is a variation of anxiety disorder that generally results from a severe traumatic event that the National Institutes of Health say “involved the threat of injury or death.” It can affect anyone at any age, in a variety of situations such as natural disasters, domestic abuse, rape, and of course, war. The specific causes of PTSD are unknown, but there are psychological and physical symptoms that can be severe and debilitating. Many veterans report flashbacks to the event, when they separate completely from the current moment and return to the traumatic situation; nightmares, anxiety, depression, and hyper-vigilance, or being painfully aware of every small movement and sound around you, among other devastating symptoms.

PTSD is difficult to treat, as each sufferer has different triggers, and may have secondary issues as a result like alcoholism, panic attacks, or depression. It is difficult for some to function outside a “safe” environment such as their own home, and for a few, even that is stressful.

Now a new hope is on the horizon for veterans and others suffering from PTSD, as well as dogs without forever homes: service dogs specially trained to help vets cope with their individual difficulties – and those dogs are usually rescued from shelters. Service dogs have been used for the vision-impaired since after WWI, while other kinds of service dogs, such as those for the hearing-impaired and for people who suffer from seizures or other conditions, have been licensed in the U.S. since the 1970’s. PTSD dogs are relatively new to the scene. Battle Buddy Service Dogs (BBSD) in particular was founded in 2011 by animal behaviorist and trainer Robert Lander, who wanted to help veterans regain some sense of normalcy in their lives despite physical and psychological issues.

Pets are well known to help lower blood pressure, anxiety, and loneliness. They encourage outdoor exercise, adherence to a regular daily routine, and a sense of responsibility to another living being, helping vets “get out of their own head” and the house for a while. BBSD’s accompany their vet constantly, whether in public or at home. The BBSD website says that “These dogs are trained to… [watch] behind the veteran by calmly preventing anyone [from] rushing up behind him and surprising him. (The dog is never aggressive towards people but just provides a barrier and alerts the vet to people who may be approaching from behind).” Being startled can be a traumatic experience for a soldier with PTSD.

BBSD’s wake their owners from nightmares, snuggle up with them until panic attacks ease, and even cover the vet entirely in case of a flashback. Each veteran involved in the program has a dog specially trained to deal with his or her specific problems. This makes training BBSDs a very expensive venture – more than $20,000 per dog according to USA Battle Buddy trainer Cindie Kindell. Most veterans simply can’t afford that kind of investment, and the Veterans’ Administration does not pay for these kinds of service dogs. The ultimate goal of BBSD and USA Battle Buddies is to raise enough funds so that every vet who applies for a dog can be provided with one at low or no cost to them.

Until effective medical treatments can be found for all variations of PTSD, these special service dogs are a viable and effective alternative that can help veterans reclaim some control over their daily life. For more information on how you can help, contact USA Battle Buddy K-9’s at http://www.usabattlebuddies.org/Service_K-9_BUDDIES.html, or Battle Buddies Service Dogs at http://www.donatebattlebuddies.com.

About the author: I'm a freelance writer and novelist from the very far reaches of Upstate New York. I've had pets all of my life, and can't bear a household that isn't full of furry life. Besides my extremely spoiled pair of cats, I also love writing, reading, tra... more >>

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