Why a Service DogPositive Effects Every Single Day
DISABILITIES AND SERVICE DOGS: Big Paws Canine Foundation provides service dogs to veterans and former first responders suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI), and respiratory, and mobility disabilities. While there have been several studies done on mobility trained service dogs, and they are more common to the public, PTSD and TBI service dogs have a much different view from not only the public, but the medical world as well. According to the Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience1, PTSD is not just a psychological disability it is actually an injury to the brain. Studies have shown people with PTSD have alterations in the brain including the amygdala, hippocampus, and prefrontal cortex as well as neurochemical stress response systems. This causes heightened startled responses, memory loss, numbing/avoidance, and sleep disturbance. It also causes higher depression rates. Oxytocin helps to release the brain and body’s response to social and environmental challenges by reducing stress. According to Psychiatric Annals2, dogs offer a safe, effective, and relatively inexpensive way to increase a brain’s oxytocin in a person suffering from PTSD. A service dog must do more than just help reduce stress, it has to provide specific tasks to be within the regulation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Warrior Canine Connection (WCC) has been providing soldiers with PTSD and TBIs the ability to train service dogs for other soldiers that have physical impairments as mobility training dogs. Some of the research shown proves to be effective in getting soldiers with PTSD back into a normal life while with the service dog in training. Many soldiers suffering from PTSD will isolate themselves. Part of the service dog training is making sure the dogs are exposed to several different experiences in the public. This requires the soldier to be in public with the dog and when the dog alerts the soldier to when a car backfires or when people are coming around a corner they focus more on the dog than the potential trigger that could cause increased anxieties. This helps the soldier to focus on other things than racing/intrusive thoughts, etc. It also helps the soldier to decrease their startle reflex which can cause severe flashbacks and panic attacks. Dogs are also very sensitive to chemical changes in a person’s body. Service dogs can alert a person to a panic attack before they happen, bring them required medication, or get them to a safe place usually outside if in a crowded area. This is very similar to a diabetes alert service dog or any other medical service dog. Service dogs also learn to keep people from getting too close so they are able to go into public and lead normal lives while the service dog helps to keep the watchful eye so the soldier doesn’t have to be hyper vigilant. They are also trained for the specific needs of each person. Many soldiers coming back have respiratory3 issues and may have to wear CPAPs or BiPAPs at night. Service dogs can be trained to alert the person to leaking masks or wake a person from nightmares to keep them from going into a flashback. Many people suffering from PTSD and/or TBIs have found service dogs get them back into society and improve their lives considerably. It not only provides a companion, but also helps give the person the ability to de-escalate issues attributed to PTSD and TBIs quickly and lets them carry on with their daily activities instead of isolating themselves making for a more productive community as a whole.
1 Bremner, MD, J Douglas.. (2006, Dec.). In Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience. (chap. Traumatic stress: effects on the brain) Retrieved Nov. 23, 2014, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3181836
2 Yount, MS, LSW, Rick, and Elspeth. Ritchie, MD, MPH, and Matthew. St. Laurent, MS, OTR, and Perry. Chumley, DVM, MPH, and Meg. Daley Olmert. (2013). The Role of Service Dog Training in the Treatment of Combat-Related PTSD. Psychiatric Annals, 43 (6), PP 292-295.
3 VonFeldt, Kalie, MS, PA-C. (2012, May 3). Lung Disease Following deployment in Iraq and Afganistan. RT for Decision Makers in Respiratory Care.Retrieved Nov 26, 2014, from http://www.rtmagazine.com/2012/05/lung-disease-following-deployment-in-iraq-and-afghanistan/ .
MEASUREMENT OF SUCCESS: We measure our progress and outcomes of our program by the personal success stories of each and every one of our service dog & companion dog teams. We will also have regular reviews from each of the recipients and members to ensure each team is training for what is specifically needed as not all teams are the same. These reviews and success stories will not only let us know how to better our program but let us know how we have helped in the recipient’s life.
We will use questionnaires and regular reviews to measure our outcomes. This is the best way to see if we are providing the best possible service we can for each service/companion dog team.
We will use the application from each initial recipient to see how life is before the service dog is received. We also interview and get to know each of our teams to ensure each team is well fitted for each other and training is going in the correct direction. Along with these regular reviews, we will ask each recipient to voluntarily fill out a questionnaire to make sure they feel they are benefiting from a service dog.
So far we have had recipients go from never going out to restaurants or movies, to being able to attend public events and become part of our speaking team. Imagine not being able to shop at a large grocery store, so instead all your groceries are bought at a local convenience store. There have been recipients that have spent years avoiding crowds and public places such as grocery stores who are now participating regularly in events such as Festivals, Parades, and Bike Rallies. It is these types of success stories that we continue to strive for but also expect to continue to see from each and every one of our recipients.
We see the positive effects every single day we train with each of the teams. Even the smallest of victories to you and me may be a huge step of freedom for these teams. Our recipients have seen some dark places and we have personally experienced these dogs saving lives. This doesn’t only affect the recipient, but our community. It is our community that is directly benefiting from service dog teams. We have recipients starting businesses because they found a passion that drives them. What these injuries have taken, these service dogs have given back and more.