Emotional Support Dogs for Service Members and Veterans
by Carol Davis
New Emotional Support Dogs Program, if the concept fits within our mission and provides a valuable service to our community. Our experiences these past few years with the staff and patients as Balboa Naval Medical Center have given us greater insights into the various therapy programs offered to active duty service members struggling with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).
Many of these service members and veterans with whom we have worked through our therapy dog programs have realized that dogs can help them. Yet not all feel a service dog is the right approach. Many of these individuals have personal pets at home and feel their dogs can help them improve their lives with better training. Yet because of a reluctance to go to new places and be among strangers, it is difficult for them to take group classes.
Our program has been carefully designed over the past eight months through an Emotional Support Dogs (ESD) Steering Committee, which includes both veterans with PTSD and active PT therapy dog volunteers. Since the concept is unique and doesn’t fit easily into current programs (Therapy Dogs and Service Dogs), the committee presented the concept to the Board of Directors for approval as a new program last June (Info on New ESD program).
The basic design includes 2 five-week classes, meeting weekly, with a limited student enrollment of veterans or service members with PTSD and/or TBI diagnoses. All must indicate a strong desire for having their dogs provide ESD support to them. In Phase One, students work with our certified therapy dogs. Class structure includes practice time with assigned dogs, videos and discussion on reading dog’s body language, grooming, canine first aid, nutrition for dogs, exercise and health concerns.
Students who complete Phase One are eligible to enroll in Phase Two with their personal dogs. These classes will be held in public places where pet dogs are allowed, and the primary focus will be on preparing these pet dogs to pass the Canine Good Citizen (CGC) test at the last class.
We recently completed our first Phase One class and received valuable input from our students so that we can continue tweaking the course content and structure. Our first Phase Two class begins in January.
This is a new approach to serving veterans, and we are excited to be a pioneer organization and will be devoting a lot of time developing marketing techniques over the next few months, under the guidance of our ESD Program Chair Elaine Snavely, a Navy Veteran who has been a active with PT for several years.
You can download the PDF 2015 Fall/Winter Newsletter of Paws’itive Tales to read the rest of the content by clicking on the download link below.