PTSD Service Dogs:
An emerging therapeutic tool for our new veterans.
By Brian Archer
As we approach November 11th, which is a very important day in the calendar for our military personnel, for their friends and families, and for the many dedicated Canadians that have served our nation both at home and abroad over the years, Pet Connection would like to introduce our readers to an exciting new medical therapy tool that involves one of our favorite things, namely dogs.
Many of our newer military veterans and first responders are dealing with a recently described medical condition known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It is also often referred to by its more familiar short form: PTSD. This potentially serious medical condition is often the result of adverse occupational or extremely stressful theatre conditions that can in some instances result in acute medical challenges for our veterans. If allowed to remain untreated, PTSD can result in a marked deterioration in the longer-term quality of life for those individuials dealing with the condition. It can also often result in a complete collapse of personal relationships, a loss of occupational options, major substance abuse issues, deterioration in one’s overall personal health, and in extreme cases it can result in suicide.
Those of us that have devoted part or all of our time to dogs have always known that our wonderful canine partners possess unique therapeutic qualities. Dogs are loyal, they are affectionate, they are very sensitive to their partner’s needs, and most importantly, dogs are non-judgmental. Treat your dog well, and they will reciprocate that treatment tenfold over.
We now find that the medical world has discovered this as well, and specially trained dogs are beginning to be employed in ever increasing numbers as PTSD service dogs. These dogs, when properly trained and then paired with recipients can act in a variety of positive manners as they help their new partners. Most importantly, a PTSD service dog can give its new partner a renewed sense of personal confidence when venturing out into the general public. Many sufferers of PTSD choose to shut themselves out from family and friends, and often are very fearful of going out into public. Just the normal activity of going for a simple walk can be a huge challenge for a sufferer of PTSD. With a dog as their partner, doors are re-opened, confidence begins to be restored, and the person is able to feel confident enough to get out of the house, and back into circulation. This benefit alone is a huge plus in the PTSD service dog world, and its impact on an individual veteran or first responder can be enormous.
Of perhaps equal importance in terms of personal therapy, all well trained dogs have a natural desire or perhaps an innate sense to physically intervene when sleep disorders manifest themselves. These conditions can include nightmares, night tremors, and perhaps even a simple lack of confidence when one retires for the night. With a dog in the bedroom, many of these conditions disappear, or the dog will often readily intervene if a particular situation presents itself. Just getting a good, sound night’s sleep is another huge benefit provided by a well-trained PTSD service dog. Other therapeutic benefits can be taught on a case by case basis, but the bottom line in all of this is that a PTSD service dog, when properly trained, and then paired with a person who is prepared to do his or her part in the process, can result in a vast improvement in the quality of life of the two-legged part of the pairing.
As we noted earlier, this is an emerging medical therapy tool, and here in Canada a small number of providers of PTSD service dogs have begun to appear. These organizations are both commercial (i.e. for profit) and non-profit in nature. One such non-profit organization that got started less than two years ago is Citadel Therapy Canine Society, located in Vancouver, BC. In just a short time span, the Citadel Canine mission has grown to reach many parts of Canada. A core of non-paid volunteers supports a network of highly qualified dog trainers, who in turn provide the basic training for the future service dogs, or provide training support once the dogs are paired with recipients.
The mission of Citadel Canine Society is two fold: it strives to make the lives of our new veterans and first responders better; and it aims to reduceoccupational stress that might have resulted from their service. In order to help achieve theirmission goals, Citadel Canine often uses dogs rescued from animal shelters, that otherwise might not have a very promising future. They carefully assess and then train these future service dogs, following strict and proven protocols. Once the basic training has been completed, the PTSD service or companion dogs are provided at no charge to new veterans, and to first responders (police, fire, ambulance, and “911” operators). Citadel will also provide PTSD service dogs to civilians in select instances.
Citadel Canine Society is a non-profit Society incorporated in British Columbia, and it is also recognized as a registered charitable organization by Canada Revenue Agency. Consequently it is able to issue tax deduction receipts for all donations.
Their first batch of dogs was delivered to two Canadian Forces veterans and an RCMP officer in January of 2013. Since that first delivery, Citadel Canine now has recipients paired with dogs, dogs in training, or recipients waiting for qualified dogs in: Victoria, Nanaimo, Port Albernie, Greater Vancouver, Kamloops, Creston, Edmonton, Calgary, Okotoks, Saskatoon, Regina, Windsor, St. Catharines, Niagara Falls, Hamilton, Barrie, Kingston and Ottawa.
Funding for the Citadel Canine mission is provided by individuals, businesses, and veterans’ support organizations. Working together with the network of dog trainers, many of whom provide their services at greatly reduced rates, Citadel Canine has been able to connect over two dozen recipients with these wonderful dogs. Many more pairings are in the works as this program moves forward. And perhaps most importantly, and as a final comment, Veterans Affairs Canada is now taking a very close look at the entire PTSD service dog topic. This move by Canada’s government department charged with the long term well-being of our veterans bodes well for the future for PTSD service dogs as a proven therapy tool.