NOVEMBER 14, 2012
Veterans and their dogs
Decorated Navy Seal Marcus Luttrell was the only survivor of a 2005 mission in Afghanistan. He is considered the “Lone Survivor” because the mission was the largest loss of life in Seal history. Upon returning from combat, Luttrell received a Labrador retriever named D.A.S.Y. to help him cope with the loss of his teammates. D.A.S.Y., who died in 2009, was an acronym named after the first letter in the names of Luttrell’s fallen teammates. Dogs can help those veterans who have psychological and emotional problems, physical disabilities, and those who need help transitioning back into civilian life. Luttrell is just one example of veterans receiving help and support from dogs to help them transition into civilian life and if they have disabilities upon returning from the military.
Transitioning back into civilian life can be an extremely stressful situation for many veterans.
Dr. Jean Rubanick, veterinary resident instructor at Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, said these dogs can help make the switch back to civilian life easier for veterans.
“When a veteran returns from combat they have to transition back to the civilian world,” Rubanick, an Army veterinarian, said. “This can be very stressful for many of them. When a veteran is given a dog, they have a partner that they can depend on and something that depends on them.”
Dogs often offer emotional support for the veterans with problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder, which is common among veterans after witnessing or experiencing a traumatic event.
“They offer emotional support for servicemen and women dealing with combat stress, home front issues, and sleep disorders,” Rubanick said.
While people can be judgmental, dogs provide a nonjudgmental presence for the veteran, allowing them to open up more with the presence of the dog.
“Veterans and active duty service members are reported to speak longer and have more meaningful discussions with mental health professionals when the dogs are present,” she added.
These dogs can also be trained to assist wounded warriors by helping them do tasks such as retrieve items, open and close doors, and turn off and on lights. Many veterans have nightmares and can have a dog that is trained to wake them from the dream.
“Some dogs are even trained to recognize when a veteran is going to have a panic attack or seizure,” Rubanick said.
Although some veterans may buy or adopt a dog, there are numerous nonprofit organizations with missions dedicated to training and donating dogs to veterans. One nonprofit organization, Patriot Paws, described its mission “to train and provide service dogs of their highest quality at no cost to disabled American veterans and others with mobile disabilities in order to help restore their physical and emotional independence.” These nonprofit organizations are always looking for donations and volunteers.
Veterans are our nation’s heroes and these dogs are important in making their lives a little better and easier. They help our veterans transition to civilian life, cope with anxieties, and assist with tasks made difficult by a physical disability. With Veterans’ Day approaching Sunday, remember to thank a veteran for their service.
Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the Web at http://vetmed.tamu.edu/pet-talk.