Thursday, August 14, 2014

Dogs and PTSD: A Treatment Option that IS Working

"Darby" a Service Dog for Veterans

When I am not writing this blog, I teach in a Partial Hospitalization Program for teens with mental health issues. I regularly take my Labrador Retriever to work as a therapeutic dog and have seen first hand the impact a dog can make in helping adolescents suffering from depression, anxiety, abuse, and more. I have also seen my sister return from Iraq and Afghanistan and transition back into civilian life with the help of a dog.  My stories are not unique. More and more programs are showing that dogs and PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and depression go hand in paw. Although dogs may not be able to cure depression or prevent suicidal thoughts, they are helping people suffering from these diseases.
The power of a dog helping military PTSD suffers is gaining so much popularity that the United States government is currently doing a $5 million dollar study to evaluate the effects dogs have on helping people with PTSD. Dogs are now being considered as a real treatment option for veterans and other people suffering from mental health disorders. I recently had the opportunity to "virtually" meet a veteran who suffers from PTSD (and suicidal thoughts) and find out all about her experience with a program called paws4Vets. Here is Sarah's story of how a dog named Darby is making a huge impact in helping Sarah survive life after war.......

"Sarah, please stop playing around, and climb down from the edge of the balcony.  We're 17 stories up and it's not funny anymore."  While living in the Washington DC area in 2012, Sarah flirted with suicidal ideation continuously after returning from serving in Afghanistan, and Jack had to wrestle a .45 handgun out of her hand on numerous occasions.
Instead of continuing to reach for self destructive answers, Sarah will now be reaching for her furry Golden Retriever psychiatric service dog, DARBY. On August 22, 2014, after over a year and a half of intensive training for the two to become a functioning service dog team, Darby and Sarah will start their life together. This is all thanks to paws4vets, her medical team, and her wonderful husband, Jack.

Sarah, a 32 year old resident of Massachusetts, has come so far and battled the depths of depression, anxiety, hyper vigilance and flashbacks, which were all parts of a greater diagnosis of severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  Sarah had spent her career working for the Department of Defense as a roadside bomb expert, and during her last deployment to Afghanistan, she lost over two dozen compatriots, to include her best friend, callsign COWBOY.  When she first came home, she went through a Major Depressive event where she couldn't even leave her home for the first three months, (and was self medicating with alcohol for the first two months).  
Sarah, Jack and Darby

Her husband, Jack, has stood by her through every step of this journey, which began back in the Fall of 2012.  He helped her get to the doctor's office where she received her diagnosis of PTSD, and he watched her crumble from the formerly self confident, world traveling independent young woman, into her deep depression where she couldn't get out of bed, considered suicide and was incapable of the most basic daily activities, such as bathing on her own.  As she began treatment with two renowned experts in PTSD, she researched the wide variety of options available for veterans struggling to hold on, and came across paws4people, a foundation that has a branch called paws4vets, where one in 75 applicants are accepted.  She never thought she would be accepted, but she received an amazing phone call from paws4vets in the spring of 2013.

She was introduced to 10 different dogs, and one in particular took a shine to her.  A small Golden Retriever named DARBY, which was an amazing coincidence, as DARBY was born two days before Sarah's best friend COWBOY was murdered in a bombing, and DARBY is named after Camp Darby, located in Italy and named after the man that started the Army Rangers.  COWBOY was of Italian heritage and was an Army Ranger.  

The dogs from paws4vets go through some of the most rigorous training known to the service dog world.  As a psychiatric service dog, the dog must go through 6 weeks of puppy training with the mother and hands on certified trainers.  Afterwards,  the puppies are brought to the LionHeart school in Atlanta, specifically for children with Autism, where the puppies and students mutually benefit from socializing together during the puppies' early ages of 6 to 16 weeks. 
After this, the dogs help inmates through the paws4prisons program, where inmates meet rigorous standards to become trainers and work with dogs until the dogs reach the age of 12 months.  At this time, students from University of North Carolina-Wilmington, that have taken a year of classes with paws4people founder and professor Kyria Henry, are selected to train a service dog for an academic year.

As you can see, Sarah is getting to bring Darby home to live with her as a form of treatment for her PTSD. However, due to the rigorous training involved with this incredible Dogs and PTSD Program, donations are needed to help bring this treatment to more and more people. Right now only 1 in 75 people in need are able to get a mental health service dog. Please consider donating to paws4people in honor of all the work they have done to bring Sarah back from the brink, and all the work they hope to continue to do to help more and more people in need.  Please share this post to help raise awareness to this program and encourage friends to donate. "No act of kindness, however small, is ever wasted." (Aesop)

(All photos used in this post were provided by Sarah to Pupcycled. Please do not re-distribute, copy, or share without crediting Sarah and


  1. Amazing! Indeed, dogs are the best form of therapy

  2. I am kinda surprised it will take the government $5 million to figure this out...but if it helps programs like this get the backing they need, then that is good.

  3. This is wonderful Chrissie. I wish Sarah and her dog the best!

  4. My son is also a Afghanistan vet who is suffering from PTSD. He won't accept help yet and I worry about him constantly. I would love to get him to talk to someone about it before he totally destroys his life. It has already cost him his marriage. What a great idea this is!

  5. Rena, Sarah is lucky that her husband has stood by her, it is a very difficult disease for both the person who has it and the family around them. I hope your son will at least maybe look into this program or one like it.

  6. I love the idea of dogs helping with PTSD. It makes perfectly good sense. Even when I'm having a bad day, I just like to cuddle with my two pugs and it always makes me feel better. Hoping for the best for Sarah and her dog!

  7. Dogs make my day better too and I am sure Darby and Sarah were meant for each other.

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