They offer love and companionship and they are excellent snugglers. And now dogs are being used to help Vancouver Island veterans who have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
It used to be called shell shock ... nightmares that keep coming back, being startled by sudden noises and a good night's sleep becomes a thing of the past.
Psychologists agree that most people have stress reactions after a traumatic event like combat, but when the reactions don't go away over time PTSD is likely the culprit.
Transitioning into civilian life from military deployment can be difficult for even the toughest soldier. Even with supportive family and friends, if PTSD is an issue it can impact every aspect of a veteran's life.
But the team behind Vancouver Island Compassion Dogs (VICD) is hoping they can make a difference in the lives of veterans who have struggled with PTSD after serving their country.
VICD has created a comprehensive program that allows veterans and dogs to work and learn at their own pace, and is responsive to the individual needs of each veteran and their canine companion.
Any pet owners will tell you that dogs provide unconditional love and research supports their mood-enhancing benefits.
In fact, several studies have determined that pets control blood pressure better than drugs.
Dale Robillard of Royston is now a firm believer that pets can help veterans.
He was released early from his operations role in the military because of his injuries and became the return-to-work coordinator for the ill and injured.
He said he observed many veterans struggling after they served in the military and by chance he contacted Barb Ashmead about her innovative way to assist veterans whose daily lives have been disrupted after returning from a deployment.
Ashmead is the owner of Qualicum Pet Foods and the president of VICD.
"I met a lot of the people who are now part of the program," said Robillard. " I watched these guys in their turmoil and have seen them at their weakest times and to see how they have benefited from this program is absolutely amazing. It is incredible to see the volunteers behind the scenes ... there are a lot of people out there with compassion and empathy but few turn that into action. Barb and her team put it into action."
Ashmead said it has been a group effort forming VICD and the canines in the program are proving to be amazing heroes.
“One of our dogs helped one of our veterans who was having an extremely bad flash back. He crawled into bed and it wasn’t too long before his dog came into the bed and put his paw on his shoulder and put his head down. He hugged his dog and was able to come back from that flash back and re-ground himself.”
Ashmead said one of their veterans was diagnosed with PTSD 30 years after serving in the Vietnam War.
“With Big Mac, when he starts flashing back in his head because he was in the Vietnam War the dog will poke him. These are things the dogs end up doing as the partnership exists. They start realizing what the person needs,” Ashmead pointed out.
“We teach how to stand in front so no one can run up in front of them and how to stand back. We teach all that extra stuff. All these guys do perimeter checks. We teach them how to send their dogs into a room so that they know that no one is there. It helps take their anxiety away and ground them.”
Ashmead said now that they are a registered non-profit charity they hope to help even more veterans.
“We currently assist 12 veterans a year. It costs $10,000 for each participant. We would like to help more but without funding we cannot take in as many people,” she stated.
VICD matches veterans with dogs and provides them with everything from leashes and dog food to fuel for driving to the twice weekly classes in Nanoose Bay.
She said the program which is one of the very first on Vancouver Island has set some high standards.
"The credibility of the program is extremely important to us. All of the testing is done by independent third parties, and our goal is to become a member of Assistance Dogs International, which we estimate will be a five year process. We believe professional training, mentorship and companion dog education will result in a safe and confident team."
To learn more about the Vancouver Island Compassion Dogs Society and how you can help visit www.vicompassiondogs.ca.