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Empowering Our Veterans

The Remarkable Bond Service Dogs and Veterans Share

Photo: Courtesy of Blue Buffalo

Millions of veterans are struggling to engage in the communities they sacrificed so much to protect. Trained dogs that provide a service and encourage community engagement can make the challenges of transition easier.

“Returning service members come back to an environment where many individuals lack an understanding of military culture,” said Marine combat veteran BJ Ganem, who is the CEO of Sierra Delta: Service Dogs for Veterans. 

Feelings of isolation and integrating into civilian society are difficult challenges to face alone. 

“In the military, the smallest unit is the fire team, and a service dog helps re-establish that fire-team and gives veterans another being to look after,” Ganem said.

Studies have shown that dogs can provide health benefits, lower stress, and make their owner(s) happier. These benefits, combined with specialized training to perform tasks for people with specific needs, can help veterans tackle day-to-day life.

Service dogs, such as guide dogs, can aid with loss of limbs, vision loss, hearing loss, and other injuries. These dogs can be trained to help in emergencies, perform perimeter checks, retrieve items, operate doors, pull wheelchairs, and help with daily activities. 

Sense of security

Within weeks of getting her service dog Leland, Army veteran Stefanie Miller, who suffers from severe PTSD, was able to set foot in a grocery store for the first time in years. When asked about her experience with her service dog, Stephanie replied, “I became 24 again, and my husband is no longer my caretaker.”

Service dogs not only help with physical limitations but also emotional wellness. These dogs may help alleviate PTSD, reduce stress and anxiety levels, mitigate depression, wake veterans from night terrors, increase social engagement, provide empowerment, and restore purpose. 

For Marine Corps veteran Chase Wallsch: “Conan has been a huge support for me physically and emotionally. Through him, I have experienced a decrease in stress and depression. At times when I get lonely, he helps out with just being around.” 

The right pair

Every dog provides a service. Whether that service is retrieving objects, such as prosthetics, or facilitating calm responses to anxiety, service dogs are trained to a veteran’s needs. 

Many organizations pair service dogs with veterans and the application and process vary for each organization. This process can take anywhere from four months to two years depending on the veteran and organization. There are various resources to consult when deciding if a service dog is the right fit for a veteran and their family.

According to the 2019-20 APPA National Pet Owners Survey, 63.4 million U.S. households have at least one dog. There is a reason why dogs are universally known as “man’s best friend.” Veterans often refer to their service dogs as “lifesavers,” making the relationship between a service dog and veteran a remarkable bond to witness.

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