By Shannon Lane @shannonroselane
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Videographer / director: Brad Podowski
Producer: Shannon Lane, Ruby Coote
Editor: Sonia Estal
1Pet1Vet, based in Kankakee, Illinois is a non-profit organization that specialises in pairing and training companion and emotional support service dogs with military veterans, to cope with the effects of PTSD.
The charity was started in 2013 by Afghanistan veteran Joe Trainer Jr.
Training co-ordinator Eric Carlson said: “He had this idea of helping veterans that were dealing with different issues whether they were physical or mental through the aid of a dog and that’s how it got started.
“This started as a group of veterans that just wanted to help other veterans and we figured we could do it through the love of the dog. All of us had dogs and we all cared about dogs very much and we knew that they made a big difference in our lives. So, we wanted to try and help other veterans.
"In order to make an impact on the veteran suicide rate, we decided to focus on veterans that were diagnosed with PTSD."
Peggy Moran is the training director of 1Pet1Vet, and trains the dogs to recognise the signs of their owner becoming distressed, or when they are in a vulnerable situation.
She said: "I became involved with 1Pet1Vet about two years ago when they asked me to take over as their training director. I did it because I have a daughter with post-traumatic stress and I am familiar with the efficacy of the service dogs in treating symptoms
"I have been training dogs for 42 years and I started as a companion dog trainer and then moved to dog behavior and modification and in the last 10 years I have been training service dogs.”
The training director concentrates on three symptoms the veterans contend with: flashbacks and night terrors or nightmares, social avoidance and social numbing, and being socially avoidant.
The scheme also enables the veterans to take part in the training process, to obtain a close connection with their animal.
Peggy said: “Well we have a unique program where we get the veterans to train their own dogs when they obtain their dog as a puppy, they start with me when their dog is four months old and then they typically stay with me until the dog is two years of age so they are pretty involved.”
The scheme has seen a remarkable change in the mentality of some veterans, including those who had lost all hope.
Peggy said: “A story that stands out for me is when one of my Vietnam-era veterans, Jim, received his puppy Molly and he went from a despondent individual who could barely lift his head off of his cane to a man, who now walks without his cane, has a spring in his step and is always smiling and friendly."
James Keiser added: "She’s made my life a whole lot better. I was ready to give up.”
The main goal of pairing veterans with service dogs is to reduce suicidal ideation, however they also help the vets reintegrate into society and help with symptoms such as anxiety and anger - and even physical symptoms such as headaches.
Veteran Robert Perez said: “When I had night terrors, normally I’d wake up panicked, sweating and what not - but I woke up very calm [with the service dog].
“He really gave me the courage to step up and start my education and it’s really easy to handle things like in the class room setting especially because there are so may people I don’t know or communicate with but he is right there with me."
Peggy hopes 1PetVet will not only reduce the suicide rates in veterans, but also raise awareness on the misconceptions surrounding PTSD sufferers.
She said: “I think that people have a mental picture of post traumatic stress that looks like someone who is anxiously biting his nails and looking left and right. While they might occur, most often the post-traumatic symptoms are masked and the individuals are very guarded and one of the things that they struggle with is social connection.
"I think these dogs are facilitators at the very beginning not only for this individual opening up to the dog, but in being more receptive to dealing with other human beings, family members and friends.”
For more information on the charity go to https://www.1pet1vet.com