Man’s Best Friend Soothes the Wounds of War

Trauma destroys the fabric of time.  In normal time, you move from one moment to the next, sunrise to sunset, birth to death.  After trauma, you may move in circles, find yourself being sucked backwards into an eddy or bouncing like a rubber ball from now to then to back again.” – David J. Morris, The Evil Hours

Fourteen years of combat covering four major military operations have created a veteran population unlike any the United States has seen.  Soldiers and sailors have spent more time in battle, yet advanced technology and medical care have resulted in unprecedented survival rates.

Women and men are returning home burdened with life-altering physical and mental scars, with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) emerging as the “signature wounds” of these conflicts.  The numbers are staggering:  Nearly 129,000 in all military branches have suffered from PTSD.  More than 307,000 now live with a TBI, 11% of that number having endured penetrating head wounds or moderate to severe trauma.

Meeting the rehabilitation needs of these brave men and women is now a national responsibility.  Government agencies, veterans organizations and nonprofit and private service providers like The MENTOR Network are responding with innovative approaches. 

Animal Assisted Therapy is an inspiring example of outside-the-box thinking that is enabling some veterans to re-stitch the fabric of time.

“We don’t take into account how well we train our soldiers to be fighters – to keep their emotions in check, to be reactive, to follow orders,” offered Rick Yount, Founder and Executive Director of Warrior Canine Connection, an organization that breeds and trains therapy dogs to support wounded veterans, especially those in treatment for PTSD and TBI.  Warrior Canine Connection received a grant from The MENTOR Network Charitable Foundation to help replicate its model in U.S. departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs sites.

“It’s ridiculous to think that all the training our soldiers go through can be remedied with a couple lectures,” continued Yount.  Instead, WCC offers relief from psychological wounds by engaging wounded veterans in the dogs’ actual training process.  They have served 3,500 people since 2011.

Each dog spends nearly two years preparing for their therapy assignment with a “puppy parent.”  Retrievers – Golden and Labrador – are the breed of choice for WCC because of their soft manner and relatively long life.  The puppies attend weekly training sessions and spend time in a therapeutic environment with their wounded veteran trainers.

“It is wonderful to watch the calming effect that the dogs have on the participants and their innate ability to sense when one of them is in need of love, affection or distraction,” said Lisa Beach, Program Director for The Network’s NeuroRestorative National Capital program in Germantown, Maryland.

“We have to grow in a smart, sustainable way,” said Yount.  “We definitely have the momentum, but we can’t do this alone.”

The MENTOR Network Charitable Foundation is a welcome collaborator.

“We need like minds and kindred spirits, and The Foundation is a good example of that.  Unfortunately, there is an incredible amount of need out there.”