For some vets, service dogs are the ‘best medicine’
Editor's Note: Total Canine Care, the dog training facility featured in the video, is now called Roll Over.
For solders returning from war, PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury (or TBI) can make enjoying civilian life or even functioning normally, difficult. But there is one type of therapy that is not only beneficial, it has some positive side effects as well.
(Voice of James Stinson) "It makes me feel better to know that if something happens he's going to try to revive me. And, if he can't, he's going to let somebody know."
Full Screen Graphic: More than 200,000 U.S. service members were diagnosed with a brain injury from 2002 to 2012.
(Voice of David Cox) "She's the best thing that's happened to our family since I've gotten out of the military."
Full Screen Graphic: In 2012, there were more suicides than combat deaths in the U.S. military.
(Voice of Leah Patterson) " No more medications, no more hospitalizations, just their dog."
Full Screen Graphic: $600 Million = Cost of PTSD treatment by Veteran's Administration in 2013
(Voice of Jodi McCullah) "Knowing that they need donations, you know, every congregation can do something."
Full Screen Graphic: $2500 = Cost to provide one service dog through Train a Dog Save a Warrior
Jodi McCullah is a United Methodist chaplain at Austin Peay State University near the army base at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. She has seen firsthand how soldiers and veterans suffering from PTSD, Traumatic Brain Injury, and other conditions have found life-changing relief with service dogs.
Jodi McCullah, College Chaplain: "We have a gentleman who had done two tours to Iraq and had been injured twice. He has a lot of pain. He was struggling with some very severe post-traumatic stress. One of the things that we had heard about were the dogs that help with PTSD."
Full Screen Graphic: PTSD: anxiety, depression, headaches, flashbacks, nightmares, panic attacks, stomach and intestinal issues, racing heart rate, detachment, alcohol, drug, and substance abuse.
Chris Crawford: "My name is Chris Crawford and this is my PTSD dog. I got him from Green River Correctional Complex, Death Row Dogs, Hounds to Heroes."
Jodi McCullah, College Chaplain: "We went up with Chris to get Wolfgang. And Chris at that point was still having these serious attacks. And the next thing I know he spots Wolfgang. And he sits down. And he never takes his eyes off Wolfgang. You could just see the change in him as we walked out of that prison. I just... I was floored."
Chris Crawford: "He'll turn my touch lamps on for me. If I'm in a sleep and I'm having a nightmare he'll come and stick his cold, wet nose in my eye. I've actually sat in a chair and said, 'Boy, my feet are cold.' And, he's come off the loveseat and laid across my feet."
(Trainer works with dog) "Target command is eventually going to help her to turn on the lights and things like that."
Leah Patterson, Owner, Total Canine Care: "I'm Leah with Total Canine Care. I'm the owner and head trainer here. And then I also work for TADSAW-Train a Dog, Save a Warrior-out of San Antonio, Texas."
Leah Patterson: "I wanted to provide service dogs to military veterans, as my husband is a veteran also. It was kind of a passion of mine to help some of these wounded warriors that were coming back."
(David works with dog) "Lex, sit. Hush."
Leah Patterson: "We're all non-profit. So we work off of donations to cover the training and the expenses of getting the dog vetted and things like that."
(Leah trains dog) "She'll also learn the cover command which is if he gets in a large crowd of people with people behind him, all around him, we teach her to lean up against him to alleviate that stress of, 'There's so many people around me.'"
David Cox, Veteran: "My name is Retired Sergeant David Cox. I was in the Army seven years. She's picked up on me a lot. Whenever I start getting angry or upset or I start getting shaky, she does this. She'll come over and she'll rub against me, or she'll get up on my lap. See that? She is awesome."
David Cox: "As a soldier with PTSD, we're in denial. We don't want to think that we're weak. But, in reality the first step of realizing you have PTSD is admitting to it."
James Stinson, Veteran:" My name is James Stinson. I was diagnosed with seizure disorder and a TBI injury along with some cognitive issues. I would do what a lot of veterans would call or a lot of guys in military call 'combat shopping.' And that's go in Wal-Mart at 3 o'clock in the morning with a list-boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. And you're out the door."
James Stinson: "When you're in the military, you go into basic training, you're given a battle buddy. When you go to your unit, you're given a battle buddy. When you go into combat, you're given a battle buddy. I'm out. I don't have a battle buddy. Since I've had Opie some of the medications I'm off of. And some of them have drastically... I've reduced the medication that I'm using. So you know, TADSAW is a great organization that provides a one-time fee for a dog, instead of a lifetime of medication."
Joseph Bayes, Active Military: "My name is Joseph Bayes, and I'm actually active duty still. So...and my dog Charlie is my service dog in training. He's very calming to me. I had an incident when my wife was at work. She was in training. And I was watching a show that was showing about Afghanistan. And, I started crying. He came up and sat in between my legs, and I started hugging him and he was just there for me. He kind of snaps you out of that anxiety phase where you start feeling all closed in. But then you've got him to worry about."
Because programs like Train a Dog-Save a Warrior rely solely on donations, churches can support military in their communities by helping fund service dogs for qualified veterans. Trainers can see if a soldier's own dog meets the criteria, but many times, these 'battle buddies' come from shelters, so they too, get a new lease on life.
Jodi McCullah: "We said, 'You know, you saved Wolfgang. He was gonna be ... he was in a kill shelter and you saved him. Do you know?' And he said, 'Ah, he saved me. He saved me.'"
Leah Patterson: "It is the most gratifying feeling I've ever felt in my life. The fact that I've saved two lives at once is even more gratifying."
David Cox: "For those that would be interested in supporting this program, I mean, it doesn't matter if it's a little bit, if it's a lot. It means a lot to us as the veterans, as the wounded. It means the world to us."
Jodi McCullah: "The people who donated that dog and that money to take care of and train that dog, their ministry is expanded, you know. And they don't even know it."
Full screen graphic:
Train a Dog-Save a Warrior
Total Canine Care
(*Total Canine Care is now Roll Over at http://www.rollonover.com )
Learn more about ways The United Methodist Church is in Ministry with Those Who Serve.
This story was first published on September 30, 2013.