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Welcoming Spring with a New Service Dog

As the days grow longer and the weather warms up, American Humane is excited to celebrate the onset of spring with a graduation from our Pups4PatriotsTM program. The Pups4Patriots program provides specially trained service dogs for veterans with post-traumatic stress or traumatic brain injury. Once trained, service dogs can help mitigate symptoms associated with trauma.

Michael, SSG USAF (Ret.) is a veteran of several military branches, including the U.S. Navy, U.S. Air Force, U.S. National Guard, and U.S. Army. From 1993 to 2012, Michael was deployed to numerous active war zones. He lives in Tennessee and recently graduated the Pups4Patriots program paired with Mark-Jacob, a yellow Lab.

With vaccination rollouts accelerating and outdoor activities resuming, larger crowds offer both hope for a normal future and risk for those with trauma. The symptoms of PTS and TBI are myriad and can manifest as depression, anxiety and self-isolating tendencies. Crowds or stores can be especially difficult to navigate.

Specially trained service dogs can help mitigate these symptoms through a variety of tasks, including grounding and creating space. When a service dog responds to a grounding cue, they rest their entire body against their handler. Just the dog’s physical touch can ground the veteran and help de-escalate their anxiety. For those who are uncomfortable in large crowds, or with people being in their personal space, upon the handler’s cue, a service dog will position him/herself in front or behind the handler to create space between the handler and other people.

“Mark-Jacob has made a tremendous difference for me. I actually don’t mind going places now. Having him be able to let me know someone is calling my name, helping me with supporting my weight to help me stand, really makes a difference,” said Michael, “I will share an experience that I had. I passed out from a panic attack in the middle of the night and MJ actually went to get my wife and woke her to help me. I cannot thank you all enough for helping me with him.”

While service dogs are an invaluable asset to veterans with trauma, there are significant obstacles to receiving one. Properly training a dog so they will remain calm and unobtrusive in public areas and help a veteran with trauma symptoms is expensive – costing up to $30,000 per dog. When cost isn’t an obstacle, wait times can still be prohibitively long.

Through the Pups4Patriot program, American Humane provides service dogs to veterans at no charge to them. The Pups4Patriots program, and the training of Michael and Mark Jacob, is made possible through the generous support of donors like Coleman Natural Foods, a longstanding partner of American Humane. To learn more, and fund lifesaving service dogs, visit www.americanhumane.org/program/military/.

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