An Inspirational Connection: Veterans and Rescue Dogs

We’re a month into the New Year, which means that many of our animal-assisted therapy programs around the city recently kicked off their first 2015 sessions.  One of those programs was our psychosocial program at Jesse Brown VA Medical Center.  This program assists veterans being treated for a myriad of mental illnesses, including PTSD.  I’d like to share a touching story from that program with you today.

During this program, the veterans work with one dog for ten weeks, allowing them to develop positive relationships with their dogs and volunteers based on trust and respect while learning how to confidently and proficiently handle and train their dog.  During our first session with the participants, we have a “doggy speed dating” session which allows the veterans to meet each of the dog teams and give us their preferences of who they would like to work with.  

While one of the veterans began interacting with Swindle, a pit bull, our program leader told him the dog’s story.  Swindle was impounded in a court case, and for six months, he was not touched or let out of his cage – a very difficult experience for a social animal.  After all that time, he was approved for a court case dog program and allowed to come out of isolation and work with one of our volunteers through Safe Humane Chicago.  This volunteer saw great potential in Swindle, and eventually adopted him, saving him from euthanasia.  While you would never know it seeing him today, working confidently in his CTC program, Swindle suffers from canine anxiety disorder, likely as a result of his experience in isolation.  

“You mean, he has doggie PTSD?” asked the veteran.

It was an extremely touching moment.  Our volunteer was able to explain that Swindle does in fact have the dog version of this debilitating disorder, which many of the veterans in the room suffer from as well.  Further, we explained that while Swindle still has difficulty being left alone, he has progressed miles beyond the state he was in when he first left isolation.  In fact, he was able to pass CTC’s certification test – a feat which is very difficult, even for the healthiest and best trained of dogs.  He’s gone on to lead a very fulfilling life and helps many others who needed assistance overcoming their challenges, just like he did.

You could see what a bonding moment this was between the dogs and the veterans.  Swindle is living proof that they too can overcome the roadblocks hindering their recovery and go on to reach their life goals.  In Swindle, they saw the light at the end of the tunnel.

While Swindle still has struggles with isolation, when he works with veterans at Jesse Brown VA Medical Center, he is truly his best self.  He is highly motivated and thrives on having a job to do and friendly people to do it with and for.  The same is true of the veterans in our programs.  Every week, they show up to program at their best, not giving a hint of the myriad of issues they are dealing with on a daily basis.  We are able to see all the potential in them to achieve the recovery they are working towards.

All of our therapy dogs have amazing and unique stories, skills, and personalities that touch individual patients and participants. Thank you for seeing how our therapy dog teams and our participants to work together towards recovery, whether physical, emotional, or behavioral.   Your support helps us continue to provide free, goal-directed programs which motivate individuals to regain health and well-being.  

Please consider donating today to help us continue forging inspirational bonds as we accompany participants on their road to recovery