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Unleashing Peace: How Dogs Mend the Battle-Scarred Souls of PTSD Survivors

Author: Hanni Yang

Editors: Shirley Chen and Mischa Wichita

Artist: Carys Chan

Whenever you hear "smiling angels," you may think of Samoyeds because their furs are white, and their smiles are healing. Yet there are other dogs who deserve the title “smiling angels” due to their personalities and strong work ethic — assistance dogs. People in growing numbers are beginning to realize that the rate of PTSD does not reduce over time; therefore, the presence of assistance dogs is particularly important.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a disorder in which a person has difficulty recovering after experiencing or witnessing a terrifying event. Veterans who experience PTSD can be overwhelmed by negative emotions and lose interest in activities. In 2019, 6,261 U.S. veterans committed suicide. This suicide death rate plunged the United States into a crisis. To treat veterans with PTSD better, the government suggests they work with psychiatric assistance dogs trained to help people with mental health disorders like PTSD. Surprisingly, it is becoming increasingly popular among veterans with PTSD.

Working with an assistance dog is an animal-assisted intervention. Assistance dogs assist people with various disabilities and can accompany them in any public place. These include guide dogs trained to help people who are blind or visually impaired navigate their surroundings safely; hearing dogs trained to alert their owners to important sounds in their environment; and assistance dogs trained to assist mobility, alert medical incidents, or assist people with mental illnesses such as PTSD.

Assistance dogs can impact the individual and help them build connections with others. According to the research, assistance dogs can improve veterans’ sleep quality and reduce prescription medications. In addition, they improve personal safety due to trained tasks to support balance and pick up dropped objects. Establishing healthy relationship patterns with assistance dogs promotes beneficial improvements in their existing relationships.

Many professors have researched whether dogs can help PTSD survivors. Professor Tracy Stecker has found different reasons to support the statement Why dogs heal PTSD. Through her findings, it has been found that dogs are vigilant and protective. Dogs' increased level of awareness will let you know immediately if you are in danger. Dogs are always your strong backing and will support you no matter what. Dogs help to build trust. In PTSD survivors, trust is a major problem. After experiencing certain incidents, it can be difficult to feel secure in the world, and it may take some time before they become familiar with their immediate surroundings. Dogs are dependable, which promotes healing. Professor Tracy Stecker had communicated with a veteran who had bought a puppy. He bought an expensive puppy bed and hoped the puppy could sleep by itself, but was outraged when the puppy ate it. Despite his depression and indignation, the puppy licked his face, expressing love.

Another psychology professor, Robert T. Muller, tells how a service dog, Dazzle, heals a veteran named Raymond Galmiche. After surviving the brutal Vietnam War, Raymond Galmiche would experience nightmares, insomnia, and flashbacks. Galmiche’s distrust of the unfamiliar environment and the people around him made him feel anxious and helpless. He sought help from friends, family, and counselors to ease his symptoms. It wasn't until Galmiche got Dazzle that his symptoms subsided. Dazzle sleeps next to Galmiche, comforts him when he has nightmares or other PTSD-related events, and offers him support when needed. Through cross-species affection and kinship, dogs and humans can save each other. The stories of these two PTSD survivors are a testament to the inspiring power of these outstanding animals. Service dogs not only provide practical help but also provide emotional healing.

However, not all types of dogs can be service dogs. To be a service dog, they must have a strong work ethic and be intelligent, trainable, and obedient. Like humans, dogs need a license to be a service dog. Some examples are German shepherds, labradors, golden retrievers, poodles, border collies, and other dogs.

As expressed, the invaluable bond between a service dog and a PTSD survivor goes beyond the ordinary friendship between humans and animals. These remarkable canines offer hope to people struggling to cope with trauma's profound and lasting effects. With their unwavering loyalty, keen senses, and intuitive understanding, service dogs provide a unique form of therapy. Their ability to reduce anxiety and provide a sense of security in daily life is remarkable.

 

Citations:

Leighton, Sarah C., et al. Assistance Dogs for Military Veterans with PTSD: A Systematic Review,

Meta-Analysis, and Meta-Synthesis. no. 9, Sept. 2022, pp. e0274960–60,

https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0274960. Accessed 29 June 2023.

“Top 10 Dog Breeds for PTSD - Wag!” WagWalking, 2023, wagwalking.com/breed/top-dog-

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ptsd#:~:text=The%20Golden%20Retriever%20is%20another,to%20train%20and

%20care%20for. Accessed 24 July 2023.

“Benefits of Service Dogs.” Canine Partners for Life | Service Dog Organization in Pennsylvania,

30 Dec. 2018, k94life.org/programs/benefits-service-

dogs/#:~:text=The%20tasks%20that%20service%20dogs,impending%20cardiac%

20episodes%20or%20seizures. Accessed 25 July 2023.

“Why Dogs Heal PTSD.” Psychology Today, 2023,

www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/survivors/201107/why-dogs-heal-ptsd. Accessed

15 Sept. 2023.

“A War Vet’s Best Friend: Cutting PTSD Service Dogs.” Psychology Today, 2013,

www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/talking-about-trauma/201303/a-war-vets-best-

friend-cutting-ptsd-service-dogs. Accessed 16 Sept. 2023.

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