Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an illness, usually associated with some traumatic event, that leads to a number of symptoms often associated with depression or difficulties in relating to other individuals. Precipitating causes may include violent events, loss of a friend or loved one.
Pearl Rotarians heard on Feb. 19 about an unusual but probably valid treatment for PTSD, using trained dogs to become companions of affected individuals. Dan Register, a US Airforce veteran talked about his several year involvements with the organization Dogs for Vets, a Tribute to Honor. Dan knows a lot about PTSD since he suffered it during his military duty, became an expert on diagnosing it, and learned how to train companion dogs so that they help the spirits of their masters or human friends.
As one might guess from knowledge of many recent U.S. military activities around the globe, PTSD is a common problem for military vets. Many service people are taught in military training to “tough out” the PTSD symptoms, but find this is virtually impossible without some professional help. Most cases of PTSD last for only a few months, but many continue for years and the problem may seem to disappear but then make a comeback. Military veterans with the disease often lack the personal skills or emotional strength to function in regular jobs, thus appearing often in areas of the homeless.
Dan and other skilled trainers pick out the helpful dogs and match them with potential masters. The canines are then trained normally for about two years. Dan indicated that matching is often a difficult process since the personalities of dogs and humans vary greatly.
Dan’s dog Ranger was a featured guest at the talk. Due to a series of events, Ranger received only six months of training before joining Dan. Ranger wandered around the Rotary hall making friends with the audience.
Dan noted that many humans think that much more time needs to be spent training the dog as opposed to the master. But Dan reported that training is often 20 percent with the dog and 80 percent with the human. Most of the masters have had military careers (“You have to talk military first, says Dan), and their career choice along with the specific causes of their PTSD often lead to unusual needs that are difficult to meet in a short time period.
The dogs are trained to fit a variety of specialties (12 in all) such as service dogs and emotional support animals. Dan reported that a primary job of many dogs involved alerting the master to the nearby presence of other humans. Remember that many PTSD patients are wary of other people due to previous bad encounters.
Dan’s organization K9 Kavalry was established in 2001, right after the 9/11 tragedy. It was originally started by five Portland Oregon police officers who were soon joined by several local firefighters. The first mission was to help all of the affected first responders in New York who lost so much. When they were taken care of, the organization was brought back to Oregon to help local police and firefighter families. After ten years helping fire and police families, K9 Kavalry decided to expand efforts to the whole community, but it seems that dogs have become common employees.