Nov 04

K-9’s Continue to Prove Useful in the Treatment and Prevention of PTSD

A study by the University of Pennsylvania revealed that first-responders at 9/11 who had K-9 partners, were less likely to have PTSD. Anyone, regardless of whether or not they have PTSD, reap emotional benefits from owning and interacting with a pet. A dog’s endless love and patience is just what someone suffering from PTSD needs to help keep them feel emotionally balanced and safe. There’s finally more and more studies implying what pet owners already know, dogs can be there for you in a way humans just can’t sometimes.

Approximately one hundred dogs and their masters, participated in this three-year study, approximately one third were a control group of search-and-rescue partners that weren’t present on 9/11.

U Penn, associate director of the clinical training program psychology, Melissa Hunt has recently released the results of this study in Anthrozoös.

“For these search-and-rescue workers,” Hunt says, “we saw rates of severe psychopathology and post-traumatic stress disorder that are well below what has been reported in other first responder groups, especially a number of years out from the attacks.”

In addition to prevention of PTSD, the use of service dogs in the treatment of PTSD, is also proving to be a success. As the proud owner of an Australian Cattle Dog-mix, this story from Time Magazine, really plucked at my heart strings. Staff Sergeant Brad Fasnachtad was severely injured in a mine in Afghanistan. He’d sustained a brain injury made him that made him especially vulnerable to PTSD. Through many surgeries and much rehab, he was able to walk again. To heal his emotional wounds, they had to call on man’s best friend, Sapper, an ACD mix.

“He has changed my life,” Fasnacht says about Sapper. Fasnacht used to be afraid to leave the house because he didn’t like crowds, and grew incredibly nervous when people invaded his personal space. “I’d just freak out, getting really uneasy,” he says. “But not anymore.” Sapper helps keep him calm by simply being there, and by offering protection and guidance. “I’ve lost some of my hearing, but Sapper alerts me if someone is coming up behind me,” he says. If Fasnacht is experiencing a nightmare associated with PTSD, Sapper wakes him up by licking his face.

It seems to me the evidence exists, that service dogs are a valuable treatment for PTSD. Perhaps it’s even time police departments start considering an extension of their K-9 programs. Obviously money’s tight everywhere, but if at all possible, it’s worth looking in to. Savings in retention and increased productivity alone may make the investment worth it. The bottom line is, it’s becoming increasingly hard to ignore the fact that dogs are a valid treatment for PTSD.

Emily Manke is an Outreach Coordinator and occasional blog contributor at Criminal Justice School Info.