Could the VA Turn to... Dogs?
While the VA tries to right itself, it might turn to man’s best friend. Dogs have been reliably helping veterans with severe PTSD.
When Shari Duval’s son returned from a combat tour in Iraq, he suffered from severe PTSD. He had been a military and police dog handler and she knew the only time his face lit up was when he was near dogs. So she spent nearly a year traveling the country researching how to launch a program that could pair up dogs with veterans. K9s for Warriors was born in 2011 and since then has given 127 soldiers a service dog to help them through PTSD. She’s on the right, recently giving an award to Washington Human Society president Lisa La Fontaine.
The dogs are trained to recognize when a soldier is experiencing a flashback, having a panic attack, or nightmare. The dog guides the soldier to a safer place, wakes them up from the nightmare, or nudges people out of the way. The majority of the dogs in the program are rescued from shelters and given to the soldiers for free, after three weeks of bonding. K9 for Warriors spokesman Jason Haag, here with his dog Axel, says it ends up being a mutual rescue. Even the small percentage of dogs that don’t pass the training get adopted rather than returned to the shelter.
Jason says the national nonprofit, which has three dog trainers and a fourth going through an apprenticeship, has a year-long waiting list, which is considered short in the world of service dogs. K9s for Warriors can handle four dog and veteran matches a month but hopes to increase it to 16 with a new $6M donated training facility in Jacksonville, Fla. Jason credits the organization for saving his own life by giving him Axel after 14 years in the Marine Corps and three combat tours. Axel is also grateful since he was close to getting euthanized.