We know that dogs are able to help people overcome anxiety and depression, and that they’re able to help people feel more connected to their communities. Yet there has been little research done to show how dogs might be able to bring that same therapeutic value to soldiers coming back from war, who might be dealing with similar challenges as a result of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Now, thanks to Paws for Purple Hearts — launched in 2008 by a social worker named Rick Yount — people are starting to pay attention.
Paws for Purple Hearts arranges for a veteran to spend six weeks with a dog, training it to be a mobility-assistance animal for a physically disabled veteran. The reason why it’s been so successful is that the training not only benefits the person receiving the dog; it also benefits the trainer.
Smithsonian Magazine recently highlighted the program and its effect on Robert Soliz, a former army specialist who, after coming home from Baghdad, struggled to show affection to his children — a common hurdles for people dealing with PTSD. After spending six weeks training a golden retriever through Paws for Purple Hearts, Soliz says he began to feel more comfortable with his family and found that his life had started to go back to the way it was before leaving for war.
In teaching vets to train service dogs, the program has been shown to improve a patient’s ability to communicate by being assertive but not aggressive. The animals also fight the tendency for isolation, and having to praise the dogs has helped traumatized veterans overcome emotional numbness.
Yount and his team have played in integral role in getting canine caretaking recognized by congress. A study is now underway in Florida to assess the effectiveness of the therapy used by Paws for Purple Hearts in treating those with PTSD. Yount hopes that the results will provide the scientific evidence needed to get bring this therapy to more people.