In This Issue
Summer 2020 Newsletter
- This Year's Annual Meeting and Other Important VPH Announcements
- COVID-19 and Animals: An Evolving and Fascinating Story
- Global Health Security Agenda: A One Health Approach to Federal Policy
- How our Changing Climate has Downstream Effects on our Immunity
- VPH Member Spotlight: Meet our New Membership Committee Member!
- Using Earth Observations for COVID-19 Response Efforts
- One Health in Action: Service Dogs Help Military Veterans Live With Post-traumatic Stress Disorder and Other Disabilities
- Upcoming Events
- Get Involved with the VPH SPIG
Editor: Jessica S. Schwind, VPH Communication Chair
One Health in Action: Service Dogs Help Military Veterans Live With Post-traumatic Stress Disorder and Other Disabilities
By Shirley Smart, VPH Supporter
When I think of human-animal-environment interaction, I think of service dogs. More specifically, I think of service members who have Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or other disabilities as a result of their military experiences. Service dogs are instrumental in helping such individuals regain their life and social functioning. Although service dogs provide meaningful relationships and assistance for non-veterans, I will focus on the military, specifically service members who have PTSD resulting from traumatic events they experienced while deployed.
Specially trained service dogs help service members and veterans who have flashbacks, bad dreams (yes, flashbacks and bad dreams, although both are horrendous, are different), depression, guilt, difficulty sleeping, fear, and worry. This is the situation for about one-third of the men and women who have been deployed to war zones. They often have difficulty relating emotionally to others, are unable to tolerate being in large groups of people or noisy or darkened areas. Many also have physical disabilities such as missing limbs, paralysis, and/or chronic pain. Service dogs can, and do, help. By creating boundaries to prevent strangers from coming too close, service dogs help to reduce hypervigilance and anxiety. Their presence helps veterans turn their attention from invasive, trauma-related thoughts and return their focus to the present. Other reported benefits of the veteran-service dog relationship include increased community participation, reduced suicidal impulses, improved emotional connections with others, and reduced medication (1). A specially trained service animal can sense when his owner begins to become anxious, then move close so the veteran can touch or pet the animal, gradually relaxing because of the dog’s calming presence. Service dogs can turn on lights in darkened rooms before the veteran enters (many of their traumatic events occurred in dark areas), alert them to someone approaching from behind, keep others from coming too close, and help with flashbacks by moving close to the individual so he/she can feel the dog’s comforting presence. Accompanied by their service dogs, which are covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), those with service dogs are able to go to restaurants, family and community events, and travel. Thus they regain some of their lost independence and are able to “get their life back.”
I like this quote of a veteran describing his relationship with his service dog.
“I was startled awake, only to find the lights already on. My service dog—my partner, my lifeline, my friend—nudged my arm and handed me a cold bottle of water. I hugged the cool container to my chest, rocking slightly, as she jumped into bed with me and laid across my legs. Abandoning the water, I wrapped my arms around her as her soothing weight began to settle my nerves. She gently licked my cheeks and I whispered into her fur, “Thanks for being there.” The nightmare was long gone so we settled back down to sleep” (Grace, n.d.).
There are also environmental benefits. With the aid of a service dog, disabled veterans are less likely to become homeless or require institutionalization. Substance abuse and over-medication are reduced, as are suicides. For those veterans who are unable to overcome their PTSD through therapy, service dogs can help to improve quality of life and enable the veteran to function in society. A 2018 study found reduced depression, higher social functioning and improved quality of life among veterans with service dogs. Although no differences in employment status were reported, lower absenteeism due to health was found among those who were employed (2). Service dogs for veterans are a win-win-win for One Health.
Created with images by Mateus Elias Reis - "Beach and Palm Trees in Brazil" • Fabiana Rizzi - "untitled image" • Yucel Moran - "untitled image" • Jessica Rockowitz - "untitled image" • Nick Karvounis - "Tiger in a zoo" • Matt Nelson - "Walking Dogs" • Aleksandr Eremin - "Sunflowers field" • Esther Wilhelmsson - "untitled image" • Dan Meyers - "This shot makes me thirsty! I love how this shot turned out. I was about 10 meters above the ground with my Mavic Pro. This is a small winery in the mid-Willamette Valley outside Salem, Oregon. This is one of the biggest wine-producing areas in the country and it makes for some wonderful evening drone flights. " • Bence Balla-Schottner - "untitled image" • Bradley Prentice - "bangkok market" • __ drz __ - "untitled image" • Tim Foster - "First night in Eatonville before hitting the Cape Chignecto trail." • Xavi Cabrera - "Tibidado’s wheel" • Farsai Chaikulngamdee - "untitled image" • Aaron Burden - "untitled image"