According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, more than 30 percent of post September 11 war veterans are affected by post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In a preliminary study funded by the Human-Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI), researchers found that veterans with services dogs experienced lower overall PTSD symptom severity; less frequency of nightmares; and lower overall anxiety, depression and anger than those without service dogs.
PetSmart’s goal was to raise awareness of PetSmart Charities-supported veterans programs with the launch of its fifth annual Patriotic Services Campaign. Starting in May, Military Appreciation Month, through today, July 5, the retailer has donated $1 from select services to programs that help veterans experience the healing power of pets.
“We know the human-animal bond is powerful and therapeutic for those recovering from traumatic experiences or living with a mobile disability,” said David Haworth, DVM, PhD, president of PetSmart Charities. “Because we believe wholeheartedly in these healing benefits, PetSmart and PetSmart Charities are committed to helping the organizations that connect veterans with their animal companions so these brave men and women can heal.”
Organizations like Phoenix-based Soldier’s Best Friend, supported by PetSmart Charities, work with dogs to teach them skills to help their pet parents manage stress or work through an injury or disability. To date, Soldiers Best Friend has received more than $30,000 from PetSmart Charities to locate and train service dogs for local Veterans.
“We place dogs with veterans with combat post-traumatic stress [disorder] or brain injury,” said Brenda Meir, program director at Soldier’s Best Friend. “If the veteran has their own dog between one and three years of age, we evaluate and see if they have the ability to learn and be in the program. If they do not have a dog, we will find one at a local shelter or rescue organization that provides dogs for us which we will train and place with a veteran in need.”
Madrid, a retired Marine Corporal, adopted an 8-week-old dog named Gunnie, and the two embarked on a training program with Soldier’s Best Friend to help him better manage stressful situations. Although he described himself as a confident person, he struggled to find his confidence when he needed it most.
“Before Gunnie, I was pretty much in a dark place,” Madrid said. “I was taking a lot of medication. The willingness to go out and be in public for long periods of time, or in big groups, was pretty dark for me. When I was introduced to having a service animal, it was a different day, a different light. It gave me a different outlook on life. Going through the program helped me restore my confidence and helped me move forward and do other things.”