PTSD, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, is most often associated with military veterans, but can affect anyone. PTSD is triggered by facing a situation “larger than oneself,” such as a car accident, home invasion, robbery, death of a loved one, natural disaster, or working in any type of medical or emergency field. These situations don’t necessarily lead to PTSD, but they can.
The symptoms are as varied as the causes, but the most common include nightmares, sleeplessness, recurring memories, irritability and anger, feeling numb, a sense of never being safe, and fearing crowds. This is difficult for the person afflicted with PTSD, of course, but also for loved ones who often have a hard time coping with personality changes and seemingly irrational behavior.
PTSD is common. Almost 8 percent of Americans will experience it at some point. The number is much higher amongst military veterans. Almost 29 percent of veterans treated at VA medical centers have the diagnosis.
For many who suffer PTSD, dogs are invaluable. A dog can give comfort and companionship without the need to talk. They help break out of isolation and keep depression at bay.
K9s for Warriors is an organization in Ponte Vedra Beach in Florida. They specialize in rescuing dogs from shelters and training them as service dogs for military troops and veterans.
The dogs are trained to perform special tasks, such as fetching things for veterans with physical disabilities. If someone feels uncomfortable in a crowd, their dog can be taught to “cover and block” which means standing between their person and any approaching people. PTSD service dogs are unique. Some dogs excel at the job, others aren’t suited for it.
Many who don’t feel comfortable in crowds are able to trust their dog more than they trust themselves. Dogs are great observers of environment and body language, and dog often picks up on danger before a person. If a dog is relaxed, whatever danger the person perceives probably isn’t real.
Since the service dogs are rescues they come in all forms and sizes, and the person needing a dog is matched with one that will be suited for his or her needs. A tall person uncomfortable in crowds will need a taller service dog than a shorter person. The dogs are also trained to perform different tasks, and the organization strive to match the exact right dog with the right person.
Training one service dog costs around $10,000, and K9s for warriors are funded solely by private donations.
PTSD is not about what is wrong with a person; it is about what happened to a person. Everyone can help through showing common sense and respect. Don’t insist that your children be allowed to touch a service dog. If a person shies away from you, it might not be because he or she doesn’t like you; something in the past can have made the person sensitive to touch.