Equine Therapy and Service Dogs for Vets

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There are countless stories of Veteran men and women who suffer from PTSD who receive substantial benefits from the companionship and care of animals.  Many charitable programs have sprung up around the country to help Vets deal with the “silent wounds of war.”  SFTT is proud of its association with the EquiCenter in Rochester, New York which offers several types of programs for Veterans, including its acclaimed therapeutic equestrian training.

Similarly, Train a Dog – Save a Warrior (“TADSAW”) provides for the training of a Medical Alert Service Dog for any Active Duty or Veteran suffering from PTSD.  The goal of TADSAW is to restore and improve the warrior’s quality of life with a canine “Battle Buddy”, at no charge to the warrior.

As reported earlier by SFTT, the VA does not provide and financial assistance to Veterans with PTSD for equine or dog therapy.    As such, it is vital that we continue to support these grass-roots programs which are helping many Veterans reclaim their lives.  Found below are samples of two such programs which are doing just that.

Equine therapy helping veterans deal with anxiety and PTSD

Equine service for Heroes is just one example  of a successful program designed to help our Veterans suffering from PTSD who believe that they face rejection from society and, in some cases, their military friends.

The Rocking Horse Ranch in Pitt county has a new therapy program helping veterans connect with their emotions. The program is called The Equine Service for Heroes and pairs military vets with horses at the ranch.

Ashley Bonner spent 10 years in the Air Force as a medic. She joined after 9-11 and was deployed to Turkey and became a Staff Sergeant. In 2012, she left the service and came back to Greenville. “A lot of times when you get out of service, for medical reasons or because your time is up, coming home from a deployment there is a lot of anxiety, depression and self-doubt. “ says Bonner.

Staff Sergeant, Adam Harrod, spent 12 years in the Army Reserves in Kentucky with two tours of duty in Iraq. “I left because of back problems, PTSD and I decided to get a job in education, can’t do that in the military” says Harrod. To help treat his PTSD, He says he heard about the new 12 week equine therapy program from the V.A. and joined.

Malaika Albrecht, the Executive Director of the Rocking Horse Ranch, says the horses can sense anxiety in people. “There’s a lot of research out there, yes anxiety reduction, how is it happening,” Albrecht says, “I don’t personally know if I care how it happens, I only care that it does.” Both Bonner and Harrod are volunteers at the ranch as well as participants and attributes working with the horses with finding purpose and a plan for their lives.

This program has been funded by the Grainger Foundation to allow veterans to participate for free. The Rocking Horse Ranch depends on donations to keep programs, like this and others, available to participants for free of for low costs. The Equine Services for Heroes is free for this year. Read more at : Equine therapy helping veterans deal with anxiety and PTSD

This equine therapy program for Vets is not inexpensive to administer and requires generous contributions from charitable foundations and individuals to help provide the brave young men and women the support they need to help reclaim their lives.

Service dog helps veteran service officer cope with PTSD

More common than equine therapy are the vast number of programs featuring service and/or companion dogs for Veterans.  Clearly, there are many theories to explain the benefits of using a dog to help a Veteran, but quite simply a dog is a trusted companion that is there for you 24/7.  The bonds formed in this process are mutually beneficial.   Found below is one such story.

When Tony Tengwall returned from deployment in Baghdad with the Minnesota Army National Guard in 2005, he struggled to readjust to civilian life. Tengwall got a job and went back to school, but it was “tougher than it should have been,” he said. He was losing touch with family and friends. He didn’t socialize.

It wasn’t until he started working with other veterans that he noticed similar traits: anxiety, frustration. “It helped me understand that there are things not working here,” he said. It was post-traumatic stress disorder.

A colleague, who also works with veterans, saw how Tengwall would interact with one of her foster dogs, Fitz. The 4-year-old English cocker spaniel would calm Tengwall and “brought him to the present,” said Lauri Brooke, a county veterans service officer in Becker County.

Fitz is a psychiatric service dog who has helped Tengwall, 35, a veterans service officer in Anoka County, with his PTSD. The pup, who also goes to work with Tengwall, provides the same comfort to other veterans when they visit the office. “I haven’t had an angry vet since I got Fitz,” he said. “They come in, sometimes angry, sit down and start petting him. And then their mood completely changes.”

“People remember me as the guy with the dog,” Tengwall said. “It started with the little things,” he said. Fitz got him out of the house for exercise and conversations with neighbors. Fitz can predict Tengwall’s mood shifts. If Tengwall starts to feel road rage, for example, Fitz puts his head on Tengwall’s shoulders, as if to say “Hey buddy, calm down,” Tengwall said.

Tengwall served 11 years with the Minnesota Army National Guard and was in Baghdad in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom for about a year. The hardest time for him, he said, was when his unit deployed and he was back home, no longer in the service.

U.S. Sen. Al Franken’s first piece of legislation in Congress was the Service Dogs for Veterans Act. This bill paired about 200 veterans with service dogs that help them mentally or physically. Most veterans cannot afford service dogs. The cost to train each one and place it with the proper veteran is about $25,000.

But the benefits, Brooke said, are great. She has seen firsthand what they can do for people like Tengwall. “The Tony Tengwall I first met and the Tony Tengwall now are completely different people,” Brooke said. “The Tony after Fitz is a much calmer, happier person.” Read more: Service dog helps Anoka County veteran service officer cope with PTSD

Indeed, the cost of providing support to Veterans like Tony Tengwall are often beyond the financial resources of most Veterans.  Can’t you help.  If so, please consider supporting the SFTT Rescue Coalition to support grass-roots therapy programs around the country.

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