The Canadian Veteran Affairs department may acquire dogs trained to interact with those suffering from stress disorders. The dogs could be some soothing company for traumatized soldiers.
The department seems impressed by the work of the Baker Dog Behavioral Centre in Ontario which transforms abandoned and surrendered dogs into psychiatric service dogs. They are trained to deal with panic attacks by pressing up against and calming their owners.
Service dogs have been recognized in the community for many years as guide dogs and hearing assist dogs. In the last twenty years or so, assistance dogs have been recognized for helping physically challenged people. More recently, therapy dogs are becoming better known in the health care industry. In fact they can Service dogs can significantly lessen the need for hospitalization, less medication and community service involvement, says Ms. Elizabeth Baker, running the Centre.
"I am sure many people have heard wonderful stories of pets visiting nursing homes and hospitals to visit patients. It is well known that the residents of nursing homes benefit emotionally as well as physically from dogs, cats and other animals visiting. Therapeutic results are represented in the client's willingness to participate, knowing an animal will be present. The idea that an animal also reminds the client of when they lived in their own home is significant."
She trains about 15 dogs a year and sells them across the country to people with autism and veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Some of her clients are veterans returning from Afghanistan, and the service dogs are simply identified as medical service dogs, with no psychiatric indicators whatsoever. Societal judgement is often a serious concern for clients, yet this is not an issue with these service dogs. The service dogs perform a wide variety of tasks including Deep Pressure Therapy, Night Terror Response, Medication Reminder, Seizure Alert , just to name a few.
All the dogs in her centre are temperament tested, health checked by a Veterinarian, and then receive at least six months intensive training. Once the training is complete, the dog must pass a public access test and personality testing before becoming certified and registered with the International Association of Assistance Dog Partners. The dogs are then matched with the appropriate client, with personalities being a key part of the process, Ms. Baker explains.
In order to qualify for a service dog, clients must provide a letter from a physician or mental health professional.
The Centre maintains contact with all of its clients following service dog placement and also provides advocacy within the clients community.
Interestingly it also provides educational assistance therapy dogs to schools as well as privately for reading buddies. This is remedial reading program for children that allows for a non-judgemental atmosphere. Our dogs love to hear the stories too!
Tracing the beginnings of her Centre, Ms. Baker says, "After our son was diagnosed in 2003 with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Pervasive Developmental Disorder, we decided to acquire a service dog for him. We soon discovered that the waiting period was three years and the cost enormous. I decided to train a service dog for our son. I found a wonderful shepherd / lab mix we promptly named Dega. After training him for specific tasks, he served as our sons' service dog for four years.
When her son grew out of the need for a large breed dog, Dega was donated to another needy family. Later she started to conduct classes for autistic children. There is no looking back since.
Of all the Canadian soldiers who have fought in Afghanistan since 2005, about six per cent suffer from PTSD. In the circumstances the Veteran Affairs department is toying with the idea of acquiring dogs from Ms Baker, CBC TV reported.