A lot of days are dark, with little feeling or emotion. Some are filled with flashbacks and exhausting sleepless nights due to nightmares………
These touching words are from Mark, an Army veteran of 10 years and struggling with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He has physical disabilities due to being injured in service…. this is the cost of his service to us; his experiences suffered cannot be undone unseen or unheard, they do not go away now that he has left the front line
Mark, however, has made the huge step of taking part in the PTSD assistance dog programme run by the charity Service Dogs UK, where he is training Jerry, his very own assistance dog under the watchful eye of professional dog trainers. Already he is benefitting mentally from taking part, bonding with his dog and learning new skills.
“Starting to live and laugh again”…….. “It really makes a difference to me”
Life is a struggle for those with PTSD, it is a challenge just to get through the day. However, dogs can help mitigate some of symptoms related to PTSD, this is why the programme works. Dogs offer unconditional love and friendship without judgement or the need for words.
There is a valid scientific basis behind the idea that dogs can play such a meaningful part for PTSD sufferers. The interaction between “man and dog” releases oxytocin, a ‘feel good’ hormone that reduces stress and anxiety. Research suggests that oxytocin increases trust and is often called the social hormone. It helps us to engage with one another and makes us feel safe. So when we think of some of the symptoms linked to PTSD such as, social detachment, depression, paranoia & trust issues (amongst others) – it’s easy to understand why this chemical bond is so important!
Mark is on a very big journey and it’s still early days, but he reports that “it really is making a difference to me”. The programme takes between 9-12 months to get to assistance dog standard, after which the ‘team’ has to pass the Assistance Dogs International public access test to become a fully-fledged assistance dog partnership. In this period Mark has 2 weekly training sessions plus homework.
As co-founder Judith Broug said “It requires real commitment, however, the routine, the sense of purpose and being part of a team that changes life for the better is extremely empowering”.
Lee, an Army and Fire Service veteran also on the programme is experiencing positive life changes through the training, bonding and companionship of his dog Ajax. (Main picture & above)
Lee says: “Ajax has enabled me to find a way to accept love as an emotion again”.
For anyone with emotional numbness due to their PTSD this is a big step. For Lee, after seven years of various therapies nothing worked. Ajax however, is giving him a new sense of purpose and is a constant friend to help him through dark times.
The dogs, are mainly selected from rescue and assessed before they are partnered with their veteran to establish whether they have the right characteristics to become an Assistance Dog and would enjoy ‘the job’. Once partnered each dog is taught how to help the veteran with flashbacks by being able to ‘ground’ a veteran, wake someone from a nightmare or provide a barrier for someone suffering from anxiety in a public place.
Currently Service Dogs UK operates in West Sussex, Surrey and East & North Hampshire and applications are open to veterans with PTSD who have served in Armed Forces, Emergency Services, Coastguard (MCA) and RNLI. To find out more visit: Service Dogs UK