Scores of American military veterans have returned home from conflicts around the world with scars many cannot see. As a result of extreme situations and stressors, many returning service members have developed Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD. According to statistics from the National Center for PTSD, a division of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, as many as 11-20 percent of veterans from the war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan have been diagnosed with PTSD. This means that countless brave men and women are physically home, but still have a war raging inside of them.
The PTSD program utilizes a training process that prepares hand-selected dogs to handle the rigors of navigating various environments and performing PTSD disability-specific tasks such as: recognizing signs of agitation, anxiety, or stress and interrupting those behaviors; interrupting flashbacks or night terrors; retrieving medications and water bottle; alerting another family member or medical alert device to bring help; blocking people from getting too close; alerting to people approaching from behind the individual; and many other tasks.
Incarcerated participants in CDCR facilities spend hundreds of hours training the dogs to perform a variety of tasks that alleviate many of the daily challenges of PTSD. In the process they find healing, accountability, a sense of purpose, and for many, a chance to experience unconditional love and empathy for the first time. Participants also build job skills that can lead to secure employment upon release, lowering reentry risk dramatically.
At the program’s completion, the dogs are fully certified to serve as PTSD service dogs. All program dogs must complete 60 tasks in under two minutes in order to graduate and placed into service. Many of the dogs receive specialized, ongoing training to assist their veteran with specific needs.