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Happy Veterans Day! PTSD and pets
Although National K9 Veterans Day to honor the military service dogs is celebrated March 13th, I thought I would take a moment today to share with you a very personal story about PTSD and pets
My history with PTSD
When I was 19, I made a decision to join the Navy. Not only did I want to leave my current situation, I thought the military would be a good stepping stone to finding my own independence by providing support, skills and training. Let’s just say my military experience was one of the best things I experienced but also one of the worst.
On the positives – I learned about work ethic and commitment. Boot camp is just about getting through it. I was exposed to many people from various socio-economic classes. Given the fact I grew up in rich suburbia, I had to adjust to different cultures, ethnic backgrounds, and personality types. I developed tolerance and learned that people are just people. No matter how we were raised.
Unfortunately, I also experienced sexual trauma. A situation that cut my soul in half at a very young age. Even 26 later, at times I still cry about it. Unless you walk that path its truly difficult to understand how a traumatic moment can impact a lifetime. Regardless, I don’t regret my decision. It helped my career. I received financial resources. Even with my dark experience, I committed to recovering by empowerment. I am little but mighty! No-one has taken my heart. I live by the principal that “just because someone was an asshole to you, gives you NO right to be an asshole to others’.
As my PTSD Brothers and Sisters will also agree, at times we do struggle. For the most part, I have managed triggers through self care, staying productive (work is my hobby), finding humor in life and focusing on loving with all my heart those around me. I remind myself “No, I’m NOT broken! Just colorful!” Even with all my efforts, in 2018, PTSD resurfaced its ugly head. Something triggered me that sent me back into that spiral of hypervigilance. Fight or Flight. Strangers became enemies, once again. I was finding myself trigger in public places when I shouldn’t, like the grocery store. When those not so pretty feelings happen, I know it’s time to get myself extra help around me. Go back to taking care of myself and put more tools in my toolbox. Therapy with a purpose.
As I worked with my doctor, he helped me reset and recover from PTSD triggers through neurofeedback methods. EMDR and LENS sessions were invaluable. However, therapy is only as good as the 45 min you spend in the office. I needed something more at home that would give me a sense of comfort. A healthy distraction. A feeling of protection. Impulsively strategic, I made a decision to adopt 50 lbs of trouble, my white ball of hot mess (like me!), the adorable husky girl Koda.
People with PTSD and pets can be amazing therapeutic. For me, dogs have always been good for my soul. Nothing can replace their loyalty, unconditional love, your shadow when you walk to the kitchen and happiness to greet you even when you left the house to check the mail. As a high energy dog, I wanted something that would take me away to refocus as I tend to get very obsessed and fixated when stressed. Her in your face, “love me NOW or I’ll bark at you!” personality was exactly the thing I needed. My doctor recognized this bond and agreed to prescribe me a emotional support animal for my long term success. So not only did I get a free dog off Craigslist to help me through this rough spot, she had the papers to prove it.
What is a emotional support animal ?
There are very key distinctions between emotional support animals, certified service dogs and therapy dogs.
As defined by the American Disabilities Act (ADA), service dogs are trained specifically to preform a task and work with someone with a disability. According to the ADA, disabilities can range from “physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability” The ADA mandates all service dogs have full public access. So they can go to restaurants, housing, libraries, grocery stores, airplanes and other public transit.
A therapy dog is usually owned by a qualified person (handler) that makes visits to hospitals, schools, nursing homes to provide psychological and physiological therapy in a clinical setting. They must have the right personality and temperament to provide friendly, non aggressive comfort. There is training required through organizations such The Alliance for Therapy Dogs. However, unlike Service Dogs, they aren’t covered under ADA regulations.
Finally, emotional support dogs are specific to the owner. Conditions such as anxiety, phobias, or PTSD can benefit with an emotional support pet. There is no training requirements yet, they must be prescribed by a licensed mental health professional. Like service dogs, I can take Koda girl on commercial airlines and have no living restrictions such as pet policies in hotels or rentals. Like therapy dogs, she also isn’t covered through ADA regulations for public places.
PTSD and Pets: Organizations who care
To honor Veteran’s day, I wanted to spotlight some amazing organizations dedicated towards providing animal care to those who have committed themselves to service.
America’s VetDogs: The mission of AmericaVet Dogs is to help those who have served our country honorably live with dignity and independence. The service dog programs of America’s VetDogs® were created to provide enhanced mobility and renewed independence to United States veterans, active-duty service members, and first responders with disabilities, allowing them to once again live with pride and self-reliance. To learn more please visit https://www.vetdogs.org/
K9s For Warriors: They are the nation’s largest provider of service dogs to military veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress, Traumatic Brain Injury and/or Military Sexual Trauma. They provide each warrior with a service canine, equipment, training, certification, seminars, legal instruction, vet care, housing, home cooked meals, unconditional love and listening, and a life-time of wrap-around services. The K9s program is 100% free for the veteran. To learn more please visit https://www.k9sforwarriors.org/
PUPS4PATRIOTS™: Through American Humane Pups4Patriots™ program, rescue unwanted dogs in need of homes and train them to be service pets for veterans with PTSD and TBI. In addition, they award grants to veterans requiring financial assistance to obtain and care for a PTS service dog, and provide them with insight and institutional support as they navigate the daunting application process for PTS service dogs. To learn more please visit https://americanhumane.org/initiative/pts-service-dogs-for-veterans/
Wanna chat Live about dogs? Come join Canine Crazies and my pack of dog friendly friends at Facebook at Canine Crazies in the Den. Let’s bond, connect, laugh and share the love of our four legged friends
About the Author
Dog Mom, traveler, foodie and canine crafter. Kimberly is dedicated to enriching the lives of all dogs. She is inspired by her Two Idiot Balls of Fluff, a hyperactive white husky, Koda and her senior beagle, Winnie. Kimberly is passionate about sharing with you all the things she learned raising her two fur babies.