Veteran Dogs vs. Veterans with Dogs by Scruffy

Military dog

Last week I was watching TV with my owner (I’d rather be out on a walk, but I try to be flexible) and there was a promo for a TV show called Dogs of War premiering on AETV November 11. I became curious and did a little research.

As long as humans have fought wars, dogs have served. Their duties varied from acting as sentries to intimidating prisoners and sniffing out explosive devices. The modern military dog is equipped with a canine tactical vest with cameras and microphones so the handler can assess a situation remotely.

I learned that as many as 5,000 dogs served during the Vietnam War, supporting about 10,000 handlers. They worked primarily as sentries and scouts. Sadly, military dogs were officially classified as “equipment,” and when the U.S. left Vietnam in 1973, a lot of “equipment,” including over 200 military dogs, were left behind. “Equipment” remains a highly charged word in the military dog handler community.

I also learned about post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. Approximately 20% of returning soldiers are affected by it, and dogs are uniquely qualified to help. How? On the surface, dogs don’t judge. We remind veterans of the joy of simple things, like a belly rub. We’re loyal and we love our people unconditionally.

Dogs with more training can learn to perform helpful tasks and comfort veterans when they experience symptoms such as an anxiety attack. Canine service programs for veterans have been so successful that there is a growing number of organizations, such as Soldier’s Best Friend in Glendale, Arizona, or Paws and Stripes in Rio Rancho, New Mexico, that connect veterans diagnosed with PTSD or Traumatic Brain Injury with a service dog.

How successful? According to Vanessa Woods of Duke University, “Initial studies by the Psychiatric Service Dog Society found that 82 percent of dog handlers with PTSD reported a decline in symptoms after working with the canines. Dogs can be trained to do a variety of tasks, including safety-checking a room, reminding their owners to take their medication — and if the owner is having nightmares, their dog can even turn on the lights and wake them up.”

Clearly, we dogs are very sensitive, from our noses to our hearts. So how do we fare on the front lines? About 10 percent of dogs that serve in combat develop Canine PTSD. They become afraid of loud noises, will refuse to enter certain vehicles or buildings, and exhibit other signs of anxiety and fear.

Obviously there is value in having dogs assist in combat, but we hope people can help us with our PTSD too.

Thank you to all the veterans—human and canine—who have served our country. Please take the time to watch Dogs of War on AETV on November 11, and support the many organizations that connect human veterans with service dogs.

Scruffy is an eight-year old female Terrier mix, turned over to an adoption organization by her original family when she was two. Now in her forever home, she enjoys eating, walking, snacking, hiking, chasing lizards, munching on treats, snoozing, chasing bunnies, barking at cats, chewing bones, riding in the car, napping, chasing squirrels, and belly rubs . . . in no particular order. Her favorite pet celebrity is Snoopy because he writes, fights the Red Baron, dances, gives great smooches, and has a giant supper bowl.  Her profile on MeowWoofChirp be found at:http://www.meowwoofchirp.com/members/karenhurlbut-scruffy/.