A Healing Paw: How Pets Are Helping Vets

As Memorial Day approaches, many of us are planning to gather with friends, family and furries while enjoying burgers on the grill and a day off of work. However, in the midst of our celebration, it’s important to pause and remember why the day was created in the first place: to honor all the military members who have served and sacrificed for our country. Throughout history, those who have made it home from war returned with wounds both seen and unseen. A variety of treatments have been developed and used to help our veterans adjust and heal.

In recent years, though, it’s become more and more apparent that man’s best friend may be the most effective therapy of all. The mental and physical benefits that humans gain from dogs are well-documented. Numerous scientific studies prove that dogs help us heal more quickly, lower blood pressure, reduce stress and alleviate depression. Recognizing that these same benefits can easily translate to returning veterans, organizations have been founded across the country with the intent of matching a soldier with a dog. Many of the dogs are rescued from animal shelters, and are selected based on traits such as personality, temperament and health.

When veterans apply for a service animal, the organizations work hard to match the right dog with the right human. Often they require the service member to work with and train the dog personally over a period of weeks or months. This technique allows for greater communication and understanding between the two, while helping develop a rock-solid bond. Depending on the veteran’s needs, the dogs are trained in a variety of specific tasks, both physical and mental, including alleviating anxiety, depression and anger; acting as a physical buffer in potentially stressful situations; reminding their owner to take medications; waking their person from nightmares; and many more. Several studies are underway to prove the positive effect that these dogs have upon their handlers. But the anecdotal evidence is overwhelming. Soldiers tell story after story of being able to reduce their medications, relax in crowded places and stay in control when angered…all due to the dog by their side.

For those of us who love dogs, this isn’t at all surprising. It’s just one more example of how the best medicine often walks on four legs. To all our service members, and to those who serve them, we thank you and we salute you!