It has taken nearly a decade of war -- and the lack of a cure for post-traumatic stress disorder -- to get officials to study the benefits of giving service animals to mentally ailing soldiers and veterans
By Mark Thompson
Staff Sergeant Brad Fasnacht was clearing mines on an Afghan road a year ago when an IED blast broke his spine and both ankles and put him in a two-week stupor that ended only when he woke up, 7,000 miles away, at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington. The explosion had knocked his helmeted head so violently, he suffered a traumatic brain injury, which exacerbates his post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Although Army doctors and nurses have been able to get the 26-year-old walking again, he has had to call in a specialist -- Sapper, an Australian cattle dog mix -- to help tackle his PTSD.
"He has changed my life," Fasnacht says of the 1-year-old mutt, whose name is shorthand for "combat engineer," Fasnacht's Army job. Sapper goes with him whenever he leaves his Silver Spring, Md., apartment, something he was terrified of doing until he got his canine companion in April. Three combat tours and two Purple Hearts had left him in a state of hyper-vigilance, constantly scanning suburban streets and trees for snipers. War had made him wary of crowds -- and even of individuals who got a little too close. "I'd just freak out, getting really uneasy," he says. "But not anymore." The speckled dog calms Fasnacht's anxieties and keeps them from mushrooming into panic attacks. Part bodyguard, part therapist, Sapper also serves as an extra set of eyes and ears. "I've lost some of my hearing, but Sapper alerts me if someone is coming up behind me," he says. When Fasnacht is sleeping, the dog will wake him from a nightmare by licking his face.
As researchers test high-tech PTSD treatments (such as hyperbaric oxygen chambers and virtual-reality exposure therapy), a low-tech alternative is emerging in the form of man's best friend. Although the government has been providing service dogs to troops who have lost their sight or suffered other physical injuries, it is only beginning to look into whether these animals can improve the lives of those who are psychically injured. The need for good treatment options is enormous: some 40,000 troops have been physically wounded in Afghanistan and Iraq, but 10 times as many exhibit symptoms of PTSD.
Amid all this hard-to-heal pain, veterans and dog-training organizations, some with playful names like Patriot Paws and Hounds4Heroes, are rushing to pair wounded vets with trained canines. One of the leaders of this movement, Dave Sharpe, 31, was so traumatized during deployments to Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan that his anxiety and recurring nightmares kept him largely confined to his Yorktown, Va., home. "I was always looking for a fight," he says. "I was beating on the walls." But he says all that changed when a friend encouraged him in 2002 to visit an animal-rescue shelter, where he spied 2-month-old Cheyenne. Not long after he adopted the brown and white pit bull mix, Sharpe had another dream about the Taliban sympathizer who pulled a gun on him. When Sharpe woke up in a cold sweat, the dog was watching him. "What are you looking at?" he recalls yelling. Cheyenne barked in response, and after he told her to shut up, she barked again, prompting him to wrap her in his arms, collapse on his bed and tell her everything that was weighing on his mind. "I just lost it," he says. "I have no idea why, but I felt completely at ease."
Sharpe credits the dog for such a dramatic improvement in his PTSD that he went on to found the nonprofit P2V -- short for Pets2Vets -- last year. Since then, he has been sharing his story with soldiers, cops, firefighters, first responders -- people who could use their own Cheyenne -- and has given dogs to Fasnacht and some 20 other vets. His promise to servicemen and -women in need: "We'll get you your pet within a month, maximum."
Not everyone is convinced such quick pairings are a good idea. For starters, it¹s still an open question whether dogs actually help alleviate PTSD. Both the VA and the Army are launching studies designed to confirm widespread anecdotal evidence that the benefits are real. And if they are, the next big question is whether shelter dogs like Sapper, who took two weeks and $350 to train, provide as much relief as specially trained dogs, which take two years -- and up to $35,000 -- before they are ready to be paired with a wounded vet. "I really believe the dogs can provide tremendous benefits," says Minnesota Senator Al Franken, who authored a law ordering the VA to study dogs' effects on PTSD sufferers. "The whole point of this is to measure in a scientifically valid way what the benefits are of service dogs to vets with psychological injuries and make a better life for these guys and women who have put everything on the line for us."
Better than Music and Art
Mental-health experts have been looking into canine-centric therapies for years. Sandra Barker, a psychiatry professor at Virginia Commonwealth University (and yes, she is used to all the jokes about her last name), published a study in 1998 that found psychiatric patients' anxiety dropped twice as much after spending 30 minutes with dogs as it did following standard therapeutic recreation involving music and art. A 2003 Barker study reported a "significant reduction" in fear among patients awaiting electroconvulsive therapy after spending only 15 minutes with dogs. And in March she published a study detailing the "buffering effect" dogs have on the stress experienced by their human partners, as measured through cortisol levels, heart rate and blood pressure.
Given her findings, it's not surprising that Walter Reed and other military medical centers have started stationing dogs on hospital floors to help calm patients. "The potential for animals to be another form of alternative medicine is enormous," says Elspeth Ritchie, a former Army colonel who just retired as one of the service's top psychiatrists.
With a push from Franken, the VA is planning to place dogs -- for which it will pay $10,000 apiece -- with up to 200 vets suffering from mental and physical ailments. The Army is considering a similar program. But both plan to use only service dogs trained by groups belonging to Assistance Dogs International (ADI), which represents 75 U.S. dog-training organizations.
That's because such a designation gives dogs access to airports, hotels and other public spaces that don't allow common pets. "In a restaurant, you don't want a dog groveling around for a dropped french fry or urinating on the carpet," says Corey Hudson, president of ADI's North American branch and head of Canine Companions for Independence in Santa Rosa, Calif. "That requires two years of training."
Sebastian "Sam" Cila was lucky enough to be given one of the 2,000 or so service dogs that are trained annually in the U.S. The retired Army National Guard sergeant from Riverhead, N.Y., had been through hell since July 4, 2005, when an IED in Iraq shredded much of his left arm. Three years and more than 40 surgeries later, he had to have his left hand amputated. "The loss of my hand put me into a tailspin, and I fell into a deep depression," says Cila, 37. When Gillian, a black Labrador arrived in February, she knew how to do things like open doors and turn off lights. But like some other service dogs trained to detect the onset of seizures, Gillian can alert him to the little things that can trigger panic attacks or angry outbursts that can be tough to control‹and help him avoid them. "Now when I feel stressed, irritable or anxious, she definitely relieves all those symptoms," Cila says of his PTSD. "I definitely still have it, but I've learned, with the help of Gillian, how to deal with it better."
But certified service dogs like Gillian don't come equipped with more PTSD-specific commands than cheaper mutts do. "Your average service dog coming out of these agencies can do 82 different tasks. But if you¹ve got a veteran whose main problem is PTSD, what does turning on a light switch do for him?" asks Jim Stanek, 30, who ended three tours in Iraq with PTSD and now runs Paws and Stripes in Albuquerque, N.M., pairing dogs with mentally ailing vets.
Stanek trains his dogs to perform 10 or so PTSD-specific tasks. Some of them are designed to ease concerns about blind spots, not unlike the way a military unit designates someone to watch troops' backs or to scout ahead.
Stanek's 2-year-old Catahoula mix, Sarge, for example, has been trained to check around the corner to see what¹s in the next aisle at a store.
Efforts by Stanek‹whose group is willing to train a family pet if it meets age, size and temperament requirements -- and others advocating cheaply trained dogs just got a boost from the Justice Department. In September it tweaked regulations clarifying parts of 1990's Americans with Disabilities Act. The amendments limit the definition of service animals to dogs. (Sorry, pigs and parrots -- although the agency left the door open to miniature horses, in part because they live a lot longer than dogs.) To qualify as a service animal, dogs must be trained to do work or perform tasks like "providing safety checks and room searches for persons with PTSD," the agency noted. But the dogs do not have to be formally trained by an ADI-approved school. Such a requirement "might limit access to service animals for individuals with limited financial resources," the department said.
The new regulations take effect March 15. And perhaps the sight of seemingly healthy men and women with seemingly run-of-the-mill mutts on planes or college campuses or in restaurants or places of worship will lead to more conversations about PTSD. "People ask about the dog, and it¹s kind of forced me to talk to them, which is something I didn¹t want to do," says Stanek. "A comfort comes from having a second set of eyes that doesn't judge."
FOR CHANCE, GORDON, HOMER, RADAR, SPENCER, CHANDLER, MAXDOG, LUKE & BLUE, AND SO MANY OTHERS.
STEP UP TO ADOPT A PET
If you can, please consider opening your home to a homeless animal, preferably a dog or cat or other domesticated animal; livestock does better on farms and wild animals do better in zoos and parks. Your local Humane Society or SPCA or Animal Shelter has a wide selection of could be, should be, pets looking for new homes. If you can't adopt, perhaps you can at least become a sponsor. We'll show you how to help out Almost Heaven Golden Retriever Rescue and Sanctuary (AHGRRS) on our blog page, but you can help out any organization of your choice, but please help; contribute or volunteer.
- The Bumpass Hounds and Kitties
PLEASE HELP SPONSOR A SENIOR OR SPECIAL NEEDS GOLDEN
CAN'T ADOPT; BECOME AN ANGEL. So many Senior and Special Needs Goldens do not find "forever homes". Many of these dogs have above average medical needs and costs, are maintained on "special" diets, or have other extraordinary needs. Your donations can be targeted towards a particular Senior or Special needs Golden Retriever. As a sponsor, you will receive updates about your "special" Golden, and will be mentioned in our quarterly newsletter as the dog's sponsor. We also accept Paypal donations. Please keep in mind that we are a non-profit organization and that your donation is fully tax-deductible. Please just write the Golden's name in the memo line of your check or Paypal submission when sponsoring a Golden Retriever.
WE ARE THE BUMPASS HOUNDS AND CATS; ORIGINALLY FROM BUMPASS, VIRGINIA.
As of 11/05/2016, our thundering herd is currently comprised of 7 dogs and 5 kitties;
3 Golden Retrievers (Shelby, Tre', & Finnegan),
1 Yellow Labrador Retriever Rescue (Abbey),
1 Golden Retriever/Chow mix Rescue (Patti),
1 Landseer Newfoundland Dog (Max),
1 Black Flat Coated Retriever Rescue (Charlie),
1 Maine Coon Cat (Boru),
1 American Tortie "Ragamuffin" Cat Rescue (Jenny),
1 dark gray Asian cat Rescue (Gracie),
1 Siamese Blue Point cat Rescue (Lily), &
1 "somethingorother" short hair cat Recue (Yeti);
all trying to get along together and make it through another day. A testimonial to love freely given and graciously shared among us all. In September 2012, the Bumpass Hounds & Kitties all moved from Bumpass, VA (from whence we got our Blog Tag) to Lake Wales, FL but we're still the Bumpass Hounds (and Kitties).
THE BUMPASS HOUNDS AND KITTIES (10/05/12): Jubal, 12 year old Golden Retriever, the senior member of the pack; Sophie, 9 year old Golden Retriever (Rescue); Shelby, 8 year old Golden Retriever; Jack, 7 year old Golden Retriever (Rescue); Abby, 6 year old Yellow Labrador / Golden Retriever mix (Rescue); Max, 5 year old Landseer (Newfoundland Dog); Patti, 2 year old Australian Shepherd / Golden Retriever mix (Rescue); Charlie, a 1 year old black Flat Coated Retriever (Rescue); Alex and Boru, 8 year old Maine Coon cats; Jenny, an 8 year old rescued tortie Ragamuffin cat; Gracie, a 2 year old rescued short hair Asaian mix cat; and Lily, a 1 year old Siamese Blue Point cat. The Bumpass Hounds rescues dogs come from Almost Heaven Golden Retriever Rescue & Sanctuary in Delray, WV.
THE BUMPASS HOUNDS FAMILY PORTRAIT - NOVEMBER 2007
JEB - Homer - Jubal - Shelby - Abby - Jack - Max & Gordon
Along the southeast shore of Lake Anna, Virginia. Click on the above photo and open in a new tab or window for a visual map. You can view "Lake Anna Connections" at: http://www.lakeannaconnections.com/
THE BUMPASS HOUNDS and KITTIES (TBH&K)
These postings are about the life and times of a group of cats and dogs living in the bustling metropolis of beautiful downtown Bumpass, Virginia, along scenic Lake Anna. Their origins and the relationships among themselves and their human custodians. Sometimes happy, often hysterical, and sometimes sad; just as life can be. You can help save a life at Almost Heaven Golden Retriever Rescue. http://www.almostheaven-golden-retriever-rescue.org/ They savedGordie, Abby,Homer, Sophie, Radar, Charlie,andPatti,who all came to be Bumpass Hounds. Please "click" on the AHGRR Website in our Link List in the right margin just below. You can click on this site to see some of the dogs waiting at AHGRR for somebody just like you to take them to their happily furever home. http://www.almostheaven-golden-retriever-rescue.org/doglist.html. Shilohwill kiss you if you do. It's our "lick for a click" gimmick. Drool's cool. -Jubal -J.E.B. - Sophie -Shelby- Abby- Jack- Max- Shiloh -Radar- Patti- Charlie (Woof!) Boru - Alex - Jenny - Gracie- Lily(Meow!)
JUBAL - OVER THE RAINBOW
Village Canine Good Citizen
SOPHIE - OVER THE RAINBOW
Our former "Foster" Girl
Abby (AHGRR&S RESCUE)
JACK - OVER THE RAINBOW
Max (Brutus Maximus)
Patti (AHGRR&S RESCUE)
Charlie (AHGRR&S RESCUE)
The Black Sheep of the Family
ALEX - OVER THE RAINBOW
NAFOD - No Apparent Fear Of Death
Shiloh (RESCUE) - ADOPTED
BEAR - OVER THE RAINBOW
Bear - OBD (Old Bear Dog) Our 1st Rescue Dog
KODI - OVER THE RAINBOW
Kodi - Ann Marie's Original Lubby
RUSTY - OVER THE RAINBOW
Rusty - Our First Dog
PENNY - OVER THE RAINBOW
Penny - Our Sweet Girl
CHANCE - OVER THE RAINBOW
Chance - One Man's Very Best Friend (Click photo & help fight cancer in Goldens)
GORDON - OVER THE RAINBOW
Gordie - A Beloved Friend (Click photo & help fight cancer in Goldens)
HOMER - OVER THE RAINBOW
The Perfect Dog
RADAR - OVER THE RAINBOW
The Blind Golden Retriever Puppy
JEB - OVER THE RAINBOW
SPENCER (HOOTBH) - March 1, 1998 – February 17, 2009 - OVER THE RAINBOW
Honorary Order Of The Bumpass Hounds
GOLDEN HONEY - AT THE RAINBOW BRIDGE
April 25th, 2009 - Gone But Not Forgotten
CHANDLER - OVER THE RAINBOW
1998 - 2010
THE LUKE - OVER THE RAINBOW
Golden Boy, Lucky Luke, has crossed The Rainbow Bridge. He will be missed. He is a most loved dog.
THE BLEU - OVER THE RAINBOW
Playing with The Luke
THE LATE GREAT GORDIE WONDERDOG
WE ALL MISS GORDON
GORDON - A GREAT RESCUE
Gordon was abandoned by his "life long" owner at about age 7 when he was found to be going blind. He was rescued from an Atlanta area shelter by Carol and Skip at Almost Heaven Golden Retriever Rescue & Sanctuary. He joined our pack as a "special needs" dog, totally blind with two detached retinas, but it turned out his only real need was a loving home. He thrived within the pack and lived 15+ years. He was a beloved "Bumpass Hound." We lost Gordie, very unexpectedly, to cancer in January '08. We all miss him terribly, especially the girls, Shelby and Abby, by whom he was fussed over much like a grandfather. We were truly blessed and priviledged to be allowed to have Gordon live with us as a Bumpass Hound.
LISTEN UP PEOPLE (AND ANIMALS)
RIGHT CLICK ON MY PICTURE, OPEN IN A NEW TAB. NOW! GOT IT?
ALMOST HEAVEN GOLDEN RETRIEVER RESCUE & SANCTUARY
CLICK ON LOGO TO LEARN MORE
PLEASE SHARE A LITTLE, OR A LOT WITH AHGRR; NO DONATION IS TOO SMALL TO HELP.
PLEASE, GIVE JUST ONE DOLLAR IF YOU CAN.
WE PARTICIPATED IN TWINKIE'S 2010 GLOBAL ANIMAL BLOGGING EVENT
WE MET LOTS OF NEW BLOGGER BUDDIES.
POPLAR SPRINGS ANIMAL SANCTUARY
Poplar Springs, a 501(c)3 charitabil organization, provides a safe, loving home for neglected, qbused or abandoned farm animals. Animals are referred to the sanctuary by humane societies who have confiscated them from cruelty cases or have rescued them from abandonment. Aftern their arrival they are provided with veterinary care, nourishing food and a warm shelter. All sanctuary animals are permanent residents who are allowed to live out their natural lives in peace. www.animalsanctuary.org
"The Animals' Saviour" - Copyright Jim Willis 1999
I looked at all the caged animals in the shelter...the cast-offs of human society. I saw in their eyes love and hope, fear and dread, sadness and betrayal. And I was angry. "God," I said, "this is terrible! Why don't you do something?" God was silent for a moment and then He spoke softly. "I have done something," He replied. "I created You."
POOP ON CANCER
CLICK PHOTO TO HELP
CANCER KILLS GOLDENS
AVMA's 10 Warning Signs of Canine Cancer: 1 Abnormal swellings that persist or continue to grow 2 Sores that do not heal 3 Weight loss 4 Loss of appetite 5 Bleeding or discharge from any body opening 6 Offensive odor 7 Difficulty eating or swallowing 8 Hesitation to exercise or loss of stamina 9 Persistent lameness or stiffness 10 Difficulty breathing, urinating, or defecating
CLICK ON PHOTO
HAPPY HEARTS DOG COOKIES
Home Made with Home Love
DINOVITE - WORKING WONDERS FOR DOGS
CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFORMATION
STOP IN THE NAME OF LOVE
WATCH THESE VIDEOS AND JOIN THE FIGHT AGAINST CRUELTY TO ANIMALS. JUST CLICK ON THE LOGO.
WATCH THE RESCUE
CLICK ON THE PUP
PETFINDER not only has lists of specific pets available for adoption near you but it is also a plethora of other great information, hints and tips about pet ownership. Check it out by clicking the Petfinder logo. - TBH (Hey Homer J. What's "plethora" mean? Is it like a "myriad?")
From Joey: Pink Roses are given to all friends out there, bringing them a sweet and fruitful day. Those who receive these roses as a gift, you need to pass it on to 10 friends of yours to show them you care. And of course, for those who received the roses, that's to show that you're never forgotten.
YOUR BLOG IS FABULOUS AWARD
From Joey and other Blog Buddies
LIFE IS GRAND AWARD
From Joey with 5 Reasons Life Is Grand
CATS WITH OLDER PEOPLE
Wake up. The cat's got your teeth.
ARMY OF FOUR
DEVOTED TO DOGS
Click here to read Sarah Ferrell's newspaper column on How to be Your Dog's Best Owner.
Pleez sign our guest book (up at the top of the page post section) and leave us your picture! Just click on our Guest Book. You can also leave your comments on our postings. Simply click on "comments" at the bottom of the posting on which you'd like to comment. If you leave a return e-mail address with your comment, we'll be glad to reply to any questions or comments. Homer is the village elder and he knows the most stuff so he'll probably have an answer. DROOL IS COOL