Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Rebecca’s War Dog of the Week: the paws that refresh our veterans

By Rebecca Frankel Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent We long for an affection altogether ignorant of our faults. Heaven has accorded this to us in the uncritical canine attachment. -George Eliot Animal-assisted therapy has long been used as by the medical community as an alternative method for treating human depression. Dog lovers know that there ...

Credit: U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Christopher Griffin
Credit: U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Christopher Griffin
Credit: U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Christopher Griffin

By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent

We long for an affection altogether ignorant of our faults. Heaven has accorded this to us in the uncritical canine attachment. -George Eliot

Animal-assisted therapy has long been used as by the medical community as an alternative method for treating human depression. Dog lovers know that there are few things more comforting than the warmth and unchecked affection of a devoted canine companion.

By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent

We long for an affection altogether ignorant of our faults. Heaven has accorded this to us in the uncritical canine attachment. -George Eliot

Animal-assisted therapy has long been used as by the medical community as an alternative method for treating human depression. Dog lovers know that there are few things more comforting than the warmth and unchecked affection of a devoted canine companion.

The New York Times recently ran a piece by Janie Lorber about Iraq war veterans dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) who are setting aside prescription drugs for the cathartic powers of "psychiatric service dogs specially trained to help traumatized veterans leave the battlefield behind as they reintegrate into society."

The training these dogs receive to deal with the unique problems of soldiers suffering from PTSD — a variety of debilitating symptoms ranging from insomnia, agoraphobia to "night terrors and suicidal thoughts" — is impressive. As Lorber reports, the dogs learn "to jolt a soldier from a flashback, dial 911 on a phone and even sense a panic attack before it starts."

This new program for veterans came about in part because of The Service Dogs for Veterans Act, launched by Sen. Al Franken — his inaugural piece of legislation — which passed last summer as part of the Defense Authorization bill. Of the bill that will "pair a minimum of 200 veterans and dogs" Franken said:

There is evidence to suggest that increasing the number of service dogs would reduce the alarming suicide rate among veterans, decrease the number of hospitalizations, and lower the cost of medications and human care."

There is still, the Times story notes, "debate within the emergent field about the appropriate time to pair a veteran with a dog." While it makes good sense that the growth of this program, and its results, be measured on a case by case basis — the positive effects are already showing.

One soldier had this to share with Lorber of his service dog, Mya:

‘If I didn’t have legs, I would have to crawl around … If I didn’t have Mya, I wouldn’t be able to leave the house.’"

This week’s photo: Staff Sgt. Christa Quam holding a puppy that will enter the military working dog program in a year on Lackland Air Force Base, Texas.

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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