Here’s a story we’ve all probably heard once or twice: An excited friend lets everyone know they’ve just adopted a new puppy, they’re the cutest thing in the world and life couldn’t be better. But what we don’t see on Instagram is the look of shock when they come home to find their favorite shoes in pieces, or their living room turned into a winter wonderland and their couch pillows mysteriously missing. Piled on with late night bathroom breaks, incessant barking at danger outside (squirrels), and the occasional accident in the house, it can seem like having a dog can be more trouble than it’s worth at times.
With National Dog Day upon us, we wanted to take a moment to reflect on the joys of dog ownership, despite the ups and downs. Beyond the cuddles and laughs and companionship, however, dogs are actually helping people live normal and happier lives! For the loving pet owners of the Paws Abroad community, our pets are an important part of our families and of our everyday lives. To those that are struggling with mental or emotional disabilities, however, an animal friend can mean a lot more.
According to an article from the Society of Military Psychology, over 2 million American military members have deployed to combat areas within the past decade and up to 20% of them have been diagnosed with varying degrees of PTSD (PTSD; RAND Corporation, 2008; Sayer et al., 2010). Though acquiring proper care for this condition isn’t always the easiest, the authors of the article, Holloway Marston and Alicia Kopicki, focused on the positive impacts service dogs were having on veterans suffering from anxiety or struggling to reintegrate into normal everyday life.
Trained service dogs can do a variety of incredible things to help alleviate the stressors and struggles of PTSD and transitioning from a combat environment to the home front. Dogs can be trained to confirm the safety of a room by patrolling its perimeter to make the veteran feel safe, or turn on lights to interrupt a veteran having a nightmare. They can also be trained to nudge gently when someone unexpected is approaching to prevent a veteran from being startled, or even blocking a person from getting to close to the veteran. (Esnayra & Love, 2005).
It’s not just veterans and military members that are benefiting from the companionship of a pet, however. According to a study conducted in 2009, companion dogs created an improvement in anxiety levels among residents of a long term care facility. Additionally, as early as 2001 evidence supports pet owners have lower heart rates and blood pressure levels and were more resilient to psychological and physical stressors.
Pets are important not just because of these health and wellness benefits, of course. They matter because of the cherished memories, long walks, laugh out loud stories and affectionate cuddles they bring to ourselves and our families (with a chewed shoe or clawed chair along the way). For these reasons and the countless others military members have for choosing to care for a pet, our Paws Abroad team rises to the challenge of ensuring no military member stationed overseas will have to face losing a precious friend due to deployment, TDY or other emergencies.