Service dogs play an important role in helping people with different disabilities. They help many live more independently and can help them deal with certain medical conditions.
These specially trained canines are also assisting veterans who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD. PTSD is a condition which affects an estimated 30% of our country's war veterans. A Maine based organization which supports veterans with PTSD is helping train these four-legged friends to help veterans overcome one of their toughest battles - readjusting to civilian life.
Rich Brewer served in the marines in the 1980's, stationed at embassies all over the world, including war-torn Lebanon. But serving his country didn't come without a price. After returning home he suffered nightmares, flashbacks and considered suicide to deal with the panic attacks. It took almost 20 years before he was diagnosed with PTSD.
But everything changed when he received his adorable four-legged friend.
"Anka has been a lifesaver for me," he said. "I still struggle with PTSD. I still struggle on a daily basis."
Anka's unconditional love and companionship has provided healing he didn't think was possible.
"To have her by my side. When she senses my anxiety, she drapes across my lap and gives me that visceral feel of want and need."
Brewer started One Warrior Won several years ago, a national organization that provides education and other resources for veterans and their families about PTSD and traumatic brain injuries, known as TBI's.
One Warrior Won is also helping rescue veterans with dogs who have been rescued themselves. The organization has placed more than a dozen specially trained PTSD service dogs with veterans all over the country over the past two years.
Previously the dogs were trained in California, but now the organization is doing the training in Maine.
Zeke is the one of the latest recruits. He was neglected by his owner and scheduled to be put down in Georgia. He was rescued and sent to the Kennebec Valley Humane Society in Augusta. Another lab named Elvis' faced the same fate.
Depending on the needs of each veteran, these dogs may be taught to remind a veteran to take medication, retrieve objects, or help the veteran stay calm by preventing people from crowing around them. Besides a sense of security and physical exercise, one of the key benefits service dogs provide is helping veterans get out in public again.
Some of the training will eventually include taking these pooches to the mall, parks and places where people gather. Right now it's more basic - like getting the dogs used to a leash.
It can cost as much as $12,000 dollars and take up to a year to train a PTSD service dog. Because the training is happening here, One Warrior Wan can cut that cost in half and have the dogs ready to meet their new owners in about four months. The money needed to train the dogs came from a non-profit organization, Patriot Charities, in North Carolina, so the dogs will be given to wounded warriors there.
Brewer believes as awareness of the healing power of these four-legged friends grows, so will demand from veterans struggling with the signature psychological wounds of war. If you would like more information about the PTSD dogs, you can visit their website.