Many who serve in the military follow the footsteps of their parents, grandparents or other family members. For some families, their service to our country goes back several generations and is considered an honor and tradition.
Each generation has experienced changes in societal attitudes and technological advancements such as drones, night vision and satellite phones. Imagine, just a hundred years ago dogs carried notes on the front lines and battle tanks were a new invention.
But other aspects of military service haven’t changed a great deal. Bombs and bullets still maim and kill, environments are harsh, equipment fails and provisions are limited. Soldiers experience emotional highs and lows, although they miss their families and friends, they often can’t discuss the grisly details of combat. Sadly, this can lead to PTSD, depression, anxiety and even suicide when adjusting back to civilian life .
While many Americans are familiar with PTSD in combat vets from experiencing traumatic events, non-combat military personnel can be severely affected by trauma as well. Non-combat vets can find themselves in combat situations, susceptible to civilian or terror attacks, ordnance or mechanical accidents and sadly, military sexual trauma, or outright assault.
When a person makes the honorable decision to join the military and serve our country, some of the hazards are obvious. But what isn’t expected is to be intimidated, harassed, or physically assaulted by other members of the military, contractors or natives. When you can’t trust the very people who have taken the same oath as you, to protect and serve our country, you adapt to survive but there are long term effects. After all, we’re supposed to be on the same team, right?
I had the opportunity to meet up with one of the veterans training her dog with Canines With a Cause, who with determination and a positive outlook, is trying to overcome the effects of PTSD.
The story’s beginning is familiar, her dad served in the Air Force nearly 23 years and she joined the Air National Guard after high school. Her duties involving scheduling and tracking aircraft maintenance, supply, logostics and engine management; took her all over the world where she saw the beauty and culture of places like Italy, Saudi Arabia, Norway, Turkey and Curacao. After more than 24 years in service, she retired from the Guard. She continues her service by working as a Department of Defense Logistician.
Sounds like a great career doesn’t it? In fact, much of her career has been a positive and rewarding experience. But sprinkled amid the normalcy, like dirt swept under a rug, are accounts of violence and degradation if committed at home would land a person in prison.
Tragically, military persons are assaulted not only by other soldiers but by DOD contractors and natives who are supposedly trusted to work alongside the US Military.
Thankfully, through diligence, strength and confidence, our client managed to thwart attempts of physical harm but the experience is still traumatic, as is witnessing others who weren’t as fortunate. Imagine the stress and anxiety of continuing to live and work alongside those same evil people. Fear, distrust, retaliation, you can’t just quit and drive home like a regular job.
Fast Forward to 2016, having identified symptoms of PTSD, including anxiety, stress, difficulty trusting other people and certain situations, she came to us to learn to train her own service dog.
What can a service dog do for someone with PTSD? The training itself can be very therapeutic, building confidence and meeting challenges. Every person’s needs are unique therefore the dog is trained specifically for the individual. Panic attacks can be debilitating and disorientating, if the person ends up in a confined space or crowd of people, the dog can lead them away to a safe area. Dogs can awaken a person having nightmares or terrors, distract an angry outburst, check blind corners for safe passing, prevent surprise approaches from strangers, just about anything!
What kind of dog can be a service dog? Any type, breed or size theoretically can be but let’s focus on temperament and obedience. Service dogs must be impeccably well behaved in public and nonplussed by their surroundings. Face it, an ill behaved dog isn’t welcome anywhere and increases stress and anxiety in the handler. The client I met with is in the advanced training phase of the program and doing very well.
We met at a local park near a busy street under construction with quite a few children and other distractions. The dog handled it like a trooper, ignoring everything from food on the ground, noisy equipment and traffic, loud motorcycles and yelling children, The canine calmly paid attention to her handler’s instructions. It was a pleasant public access test for dog and handler, and an enjoyable conversation with a remarkable person.
Congratulations to Millie and her handler, another successful Canines With a Cause veteran training partnership!
Canines With a Cause receives no government or VA funding to operate our programs. We rely on you, the general public to show your appreciation for what our military has risked for each one of us. Please show your support by making a tax deductible donation HERE.
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Canines With a Cause
Canines with a Cause Salt Lake City, Utah is a registered 501 (c)(3) Non Profit Organization Rescuing homeless and abandoned shelter dogs, training military Veterans with PTSD or other psychiatric disabilities to train their own service and assistance dogs and providing female prison inmates an opportunity to apply basic dog training skills to the dogs recently rescued.
Saving Three Lives!