Welcome to our new website!
Sept. 12, 2022

Service Dogs: How they are helping to save veterans lives

Service Dogs: How they are helping to save veterans lives

Today's show might seem a little random, but if you know me, you know I am a huge animal lover. Any excuse to talk about animals, I am going to take it! September is service dog appreciation month, it is also suicide prevention month.

I think most of us have heard the alarming statistic that 22 veterans take their lives everyday. It is absolutely heartbreaking.

On todays show we are going to talk about military working dogs briefly because they do some really amazing stuff! Most of which you will never hear about.

And finally we are talking about service dogs being matched with veterans suffering from PTSD, TBI and sexual assault. How dogs are improving the lives of these suffers and what you can do to help!

As always, thank you for listening!

Follow me on IG @themilspousepodcast

Check out our website for new episodes and freebies


[00:00:00] Hello. Hello and welcome back. So today we're gonna be talking about service dogs. And the reason why is because September is national service dog month in case you didn't know which is a time that's devoted to raising awareness. And showing appreciation for the extraordinary work that service dogs do every day for the people that are in their care.

[00:00:21] There are approximately 500,000 service dogs currently helping people in the us. I think a lot of people have heard of guide dogs for the blind and other types of service dogs, but over the years, service dogs for combat traumas like PTSD and traumatic brain injury or TBI. And sexual assault had become more prevalent.

[00:00:43] And as a mill spouse, I don't know about you, but I always want to find out ways to help these types of organizations. So so we're gonna get into that in just a little bit, but besides civilian service dogs, there are currently about 1600 military working dogs serving across every branch of the military.

[00:01:03] So military military working dogs are. I feel like they're almost like unsung hero. because a lot of the work that they do you, I mean, you've probably seen them if you're associated with a base or been on a military base, you're gonna see dogs right. With the, with the police force, the MPS. But you don't see a lot of the dogs that are attached to units.

[00:01:28] So there's a lot of dogs that are attached to special forces deltas. Those guys that you, you know, a lot of what they do. Classified and you, you just don't know what they're doing. So I did a lot of research. like way down the rabbit hole on this one. And part of the reason was, is because it's something that I'm passionate about.

[00:01:50] I love animals. I've always been an animal lover and if you didn't know this about me already, I talk about it a lot, but I trained dolphins and sea Alliance for the Navy Marine mammo program for almost 10 years. And so animals have always been a big part of my life. And actually when I transitioned out of working for the Marine mammo program, I really part of why I chose the Marie mammo program when I went into Marie mammo training was, or the Navy's program rather was because we.

[00:02:20] We were training our animals to protect our, our Naval assets. And so I felt like it was just, I just felt like it was a noble cause that we're training our animals for, to protect our, our boats and our harbors and, and our, and our service members in that way. And so I thought it would be really cool coming out of that to work with military working dogs, with my training experience and whatnot.

[00:02:41] But what I quickly discovered is that the military working. Training program is in, is at Lackland air force base in San Antonio, Texas, Texas. So as a Navy spouse, the likelihood of us being stationed in San Antonio, Texas was slim to none. So I quickly realized that my. Aspirations of training, military working dogs was not gonna happen for me.

[00:03:04] But so so the military working dog program, but anyways, I just, I thought it was cool. So I dove into it a little bit. So I'm just gonna share a little bit about the program with you. That's another thing that I've been wanting to do on this show and that we're gonna continue to do this. Season is talk about things that parts of, of the military that you might not be aware of.

[00:03:22] And this is one of 'em service dogs and, and military working dogs. So a couple of interesting things about the military working dog program is how they select their dogs, the different types of dogs that they use. So they typically. In the research that I did, they go about four times a year or so overseas to Europe and Asia to look for dogs.

[00:03:44] So the popular breeds, cuz this was interesting to me too, is I think a lot of times, you know, you see German shepherds, but popular breeds for military working dogs. One of the biggest ones is the Belgian Mallin wa, which I hadn't heard of before. Labs retrievers. Dutch shepherd and then also German shepherds.

[00:04:00] And then there's some other like random breeds in there. Like there's a, I think, did they say it was a Jack Russell terrier that was a working dog for a while. And then like, back in like the fifties, it was there was a bulldog like there, so there's some, definitely some, some different breeds in there for sure.

[00:04:14] But. The Mallin wa is is one of the, one of the most sought after ones for what the, the work that they do with the military working dogs. And the reason why is because of its targeted aggression, they're super fast. They are very agile and they have they adapt well to extreme heat, which I know that we, where we have been fighting our wars.

[00:04:38] It's very hot there. So that's a. characteristic. That would be helpful. Dogs are they're, , selected from the best kennels around the world and then brought to United States to be trained in, oh shoot. I can't remember the year. Was it 90, 91 sometime in the nineties? They were like, Hey, maybe we should start trying to.

[00:04:58] Breed these dogs ourselves so that, you know, in case something happens and we lose our access overseas, we will, you know, not completely lose our program. So they did at Lackland air force base start a puppy program. And I can't remember how many they breed through their a year, but the thing is.

[00:05:18] the animals that they, they have really strict medical criteria that they have to reach, you know, they do x-rays and all that mean they can't have hip dysplasia. A lot of things that some of those bigger dogs have. There's a lot of, of medical stuff that they have to pass before they can even enter into the training program.

[00:05:34] And then. You know, just like people, there's some dogs that are gonna be fantastic and there's other ones that are just not gonna, it's just not gonna be the right fit. And so you really have to have a lot of numbers to be able to be able to put out as many animals as you can. So they do have a breeding program here in the us.

[00:05:50] I can't remember how many puppies come out of it. They're so freaking cute. Oh my gosh. You guys seriously? The amount of time that I spent watching, like YouTube videos and breeding articles and watching other videos on governments. Oh my gosh. It was like, they're so freaking cute. But anyway, 

[00:06:03] so Lackland air force base is where most of it comes from most is where the training. and the animals, the military working dogs that they have, they're used for patrolling, for searching for explosive detection, for tracking. And they get desensitized to being around all different types of equipment that they might be around, like, you know, tanks and huge vehicles.

[00:06:27] And You know helicopters and aircraft and gunfire. Like there's a lot of those things. If you think about, if you have dogs, if you think about some of those things and your dog, like, do your dogs freak out? At 4th of July, when there's all the fireworks, like mine are like little crazy shaking messes.

[00:06:43] So clearly they would not be good military working talks because they just can't. They need to. able to be calm and comfortable in all kinds of situations. And then there's like extreme situations, right? Cause like I said mentioned previously, a lot of these dogs are attached to special forces units.

[00:07:01] So they're repelling from helicopters. They're riding in boats, they're skydiving, which there's some videos. Oh my God. So freaking cute. I can't even, and it's not cute, but it's just. So for me again, because I was an animal trainer, I was in that for, I know how much work that takes and I know how hard it is and to why I just, I kind of kept getting so emotional is ridiculous, but but anyways, it's just, it's you just Google because it's, you, you won't be disappointed.

[00:07:29] I promise. Okay. so it's estimated that the training of service dogs of the military working dogs is around $40,000 each. And the training program that they put the dogs through at Laughland air force base, after they've met a huge, like laundry list of qualifications is 120 days to complete training.

[00:07:49] And then the dogs are around one to three years old when they're going through that training program. and then typical year of service is around 10 years or so of service. So these dogs are, are in service in the fleet, in the Being patrolled all over the place for a, a lot of their lives. And then I found, so initially I feel like it was on the Army's site that 90% of dogs who enter the program, graduate the program, the puppy, or the dog program that they have at at Lackland air force base.

[00:08:22] But then I found a couple other ones that said it's only about 50%. So again, You know, we saw the same thing at the Murray mammo program is that you've got these animals and some of 'em are gonna be good at some things. And some of 'em are not gonna be good at some things. And then there's some of them that are just, they're gonna be better as in, in something else.

[00:08:39] So you really have to put through a lot of numbers so that you can, because the demand for for these assets is really is higher than what they can put out. Something that was really cool that I read about was that the military working dogs, they wear, especially the dogs that are attached, like the special forces units that they wear, Bulletproof vests that are outfitted with cameras.

[00:09:01] Right. So that the, the their handlers and whatnot can see what they are seeing. Cuz a lot of times the dogs will go into buildings and things like that to search and clear before the military members go. so they'll have cameras and radios and then the handler can communicate commands to the dog through the radio, which I was like, holy crap.

[00:09:22] Like again, like my geeky training brain was like, oh my gosh. That's like, is that, does that not seem really cool to you? That you, your dog could wear a radio and then you could talk to your dog. And I just like, it just blew my mind, like to think about the training that would be evolved in that just super crazy.

[00:09:39] Okay. So clearly. military working dogs are pretty badass and a lot of what they do and where they're operated is classified, but they're out there. And I have read countless stories in researching this episode of the heroics of these dogs. And the bond between the dog and the handler is incredibly strong.

[00:10:02] And I can attest to that. with my Marie mammal experience, the level of trust between an animal and the handler is incredible because you just, the amount of time that you spend with that animal and the bond that is just cemented over that time spent together is just incredible. So. so I ju it was fascinating to me anyways.

[00:10:25] Okay. So let's switch gears just a little bit. And so, so we, so service dogs, like for the general public military working dogs. Super cool. And then another caveat to that are service dogs for military members who suffer from PTSD, traumatic brain injury sexual assault. and it has been shown that contact with animals lowers our blood pressure, lowers our heart rate, reduces anxiety, increases the feel good hormones, endorphins, and oxytocin, right?

[00:10:58] Those are the feel good chemicals released by the body. And there are just, there's so many reasons why dogs are incredible companions for heroes that are suffering from these issues. So I kind of, I spent a lot of time, honestly researching this part of it, of different organizations that train and match veterans with dogs.

[00:11:22] It is like there's a lot of them out there. We'll, we'll talk about more of that a little bit later, but so just kind of diving into how service dogs can help people with PTSD. I think we all know that that is a huge issue for our military and first responders. 

[00:11:41] PTSD is characterized by symptoms that are grouped into four main. Categories. So there's intrusion or re-experiencing there's avoidance, there's alteration in mood and cognition. How your brain is, is responding and hyper arousal. So using. psychiatric service dogs essentially is one way to help people suffering from PTSD.

[00:12:09] And these service animals are specifically trained to help people with mental health disabilities. Right? So not just PTSD, but could be schizophrenia, anxiety, depression, bipolar. These dogs are trained to work with and to complete tasks to help mitigate the symptoms of PTSD. So here are some of the things that, that they can do.

[00:12:34] So surface dogs can help reduce symptoms of depression, which helps reduce suicidal thoughts and prevent suicide. And I think that it is incredibly alarming. . 

[00:12:47] Every single day, 22 veterans take their own lives. And that is just. absolutely heartbreaking. So service animals can give a person a reason to get outta bed, to get some exercise, just to even take on the day. Having a dog as a companion can be therapeutic and help with feelings of loneliness and isolation.

[00:13:09] They can help reduce anxiety and other PTSD symptoms while also improv. the handlers coping mechanisms. So they really can, these service dogs can really help a handler just gain that confidence and freedom. Again. The dogs are trained to recognize symptoms of anxiety and they can help pro do things to disrupt anxiety behaviors.

[00:13:31] So they can, you know if their, if their service member or their handler is , you know, becoming anxious, they can , nudge them or paw or lick. And it just changes the focus to on the dog instead of their anxiety. So a service dog can also help reduce anxiety.

[00:13:50] Whenever handlers are in public, which is, I think, you know, I've, I haven't. dealt personally with well, I think everybody has a little bit of PTSD, but like a service member that's come back with like severe PTSD. But you, you know, I've heard lots of stories, like I'm sure you guys have too where people don't wanna leave their house.

[00:14:08] Right. They just, their loud noises, crowds of people is just, it's just overwhelming. And so another thing that the service dogs is they provide it to it's like almost like a cushion between the handler and other people just to help reduce again, reduce anxiety and make 'em feel safe while they're people make them feel safe while they're in public.

[00:14:26] Night. Terrors are a one form of the intrusion symptom and a service dog can recognize the signs that the handler is experiencing a night terror and interrupts it. So if the dog recognizes these cues, they can wake them by again, nudging, licking, lying on their chest. They can even go turn the lights on, to wake a handler and make sure that they feel safe.

[00:14:47] Another symptom of PTSD is hyper vigilance. And it's one of the key symptoms with PTSD and it's, it's characterized by extreme sensitivity to one's surroundings. Right. And a sense that presume danger is lurking around every corner. So to help mitigate the symptoms, service dogs can perform room searches or safety checks, essentially where the dog goes into each room and then alerts the handler that the house is safe.

[00:15:11] So again, just like taking it off, of their list of, of stress. and then disassociation is a symptom of PTSD that can, it can display in a couple of different ways. So it can be flashbacks. It can be just disconnection of the self. Having a disconnection with time or just feeling detached from reality.

[00:15:31] And so when a handler is in a dissociative state the service animal can help guide them to a safe place, to an exit take 'em back home, or even to a specific person. And the service animals can help, you know, quote unquote, ground. The handler and kind of bring them back to reality. They can, you know, they can also touch them and just, you know, bring their focus back to the actual present moment.

[00:15:57] So then they come back into their body. So this association is essentially like, almost like an out of body experience. Like you are just not there. Your mind is elsewhere. And so that dog can help bring them back. And then dogs can also be trained to remind. Handlers, when it's time to take medication, they can retrieve medication for them.

[00:16:17] They can Alert to a handler, if there's an alarm or someone's at the door, or, you know, remind them of, of eating and sleeping, like just, you know, like normal tasks. And then I think one of the big things is that a service dog is they're , a non-judgmental companion for someone with PTSD and it just, it can make it possible for sufferers to live more independently, to be more self-sufficient right.

[00:16:45] And just improve their quality of life.

[00:16:47] So those are just some of the things that. That service dogs can do for sufferers with PTSD and TBI and sexual sexual assault. And and it's becoming, like I said again, before, you know, this is not new service dogs for this, but I think in light of, of recent years and the. Campaigns and war that we have been involved in overseas, that this is just we're just seeing the ramifications of this.

[00:17:19] So in 2021, Congress introduced the puppies, assisting wounded service members for veterans therapy act that's a mouthful or pause for veterans therapy act. And it was a bill that implements a program and policy related to service dog therapy for veterans specifically. The bill requires that the VA is to implement a five year pilot program to provide canine training to eligible veterans diagnosed with PTSD.

[00:17:47] So I think. You know, there's there have been these organizations that have been like an offshoot that are doing this, that are providing service dogs for veterans. We've seen the benefit. I mean, I just was telling you about all the different benefits of, of service dogs that service dogs can be for people that are suffering from PTSD, TBI.

[00:18:04] And so this is just the government is, you know, is recognizing it as well. And they're introducing legislation to help make it more accessible. So a, a lot of the research that I found is that the service dogs are provided free of charge. So there's some, there's some really awesome organizations.

[00:18:22] Again, just Google , there's a ton of them. And a lot of them even go twofold. So they go to shelters and they rescue dogs from shelters and then train them to become service dogs. So you get two lives, right? You get to save the dog from the shelter. And then in turn, the dog is, is saves the veteran and.

[00:18:44] I think that that's really cool, but that is not always the case. And so, and you know, I think that there's a lot of people that might not think about it or know that it's there. So I think that it's a huge step for the VA to to have this program so that more people can find out about it because.

[00:19:01] I think that's, you know, one of the biggest things that we can do is just spread the word that there are other options and that there's hope. And I think that this is a really, really valuable program. . So what can you do to help? Because I, you know, I feel like you hear about God, there's all these issues, right?

[00:19:17] There's all these environmental issues. There's all these injustices that are happening, social injustices that are happening and like, what can I do, right? Like what can I do? How can I help? And the suicide rate among that twins again, every single day 22 veterans take their lives. It's. It's heartbreaking.

[00:19:34] What can you do? So here's something that you can do, right? This is a small part that you can pay play. And again, if this is something that speaks to you, or if you're not a dog person, then this is not probably for you, but like if you're a dog person, like I am or an animal person, this is an amazing opportunity.

[00:19:52] To give back to a community that I love so much. So, so here's what you can do. You can Google look around for veteran service off organizations again, they're all over the place. When I initially started looking, I was like, oh, oh my gosh, like I, how can I get involved? I wanna do something. And the initial ones that I found.

[00:20:13] canines for warriors, Simplifi service dogs. I mean, there's so many of them they're all based in different places like canines for warriors. I can't remember where that one is, but SFI service dogs that one's been on the news in a couple of different places they're based out of Oregon. And a lot of these organizations really need help.

[00:20:28] They're asking for volunteers, they're asking for people to help them raise these dogs and train these dogs and and foster them and different things like. But you need to be close to the facility because you have to bring the dog in for training and different things like that. So you need to kind of look around and find one that is where you are.

[00:20:45] And it took me a bit, honestly, I was like, man, I really wanna do this, but I can't find any we're here in like the greater Denver area I can't find. And I did, I did find one and I am going to I have filled out an application, so hopefully that will be happening soon. So some of the things that they're looking for right.

[00:21:01] Are there a lot of are different things, but there's puppy razors. Okay. Seriously, that one is a little bit of a commitment. so in again, each organization is gonna be different. So you need to look at what they're looking for, for where you are, but in the in the one that I applied for, they're looking for puppy razor.

[00:21:19] So that's like you get a puppy when it's like eight weeks old and you raise it in your home. You do have to take it back to the, the facility. And different intervals for different trainings and things like that. And you keep it essentially for like the first year and then and then the dog is then turned over to back to the facility for training.

[00:21:40] So you don't keep this dog, right. So that's the hard part. Because like we have small kids, right? So my girls are nine and 10 and they. We all will be super attached. So I think that would be really hard. So I'm not sure if we're quite ready for puppy raising yet, but another program that they have, again, this is with the one that I found that's here right outside of Denver.

[00:22:00] So you just need to look at what's available where you are. but they look for weekend fosters. So like the dogs that are in training they look for them to be able to go into a home over the weekend. So like, you go pick 'em up on Friday, you take 'em back on Monday and they just get to spend the weekend in your home.

[00:22:18] And. You know, kind of away from the kennel and all the noise and get lots of extra love and things like that. So that's something that's, you know, that's not hard to, to take into your life and it's not like you have to do it every single weekend. Maybe you do it like one weekend, a month or something like that.

[00:22:32] But it's just, it's something that you can do. Right. And then if that's not your jam, but this is something that you, you are passionate about. There's a lot of organizations. That are looking for people to help with outreach. Like maybe you're really good at putting events together or fundraising or things like that.

[00:22:48] You can volunteer yourself in that way as well. And then in just the actual like day to day care of the animal. So there's a lot of ways that you can be involved in. I think that we all wanna be part of something that makes a difference, right. and these service dog programs are making a huge difference for our heroes.

[00:23:08] And if this is something that resonates with you, then get involved. Like I said, Google, find an organization near you and just

[00:23:16] Get involved. Okay. So that's all I have for service dogs. service dog, September service, dog appreciation month. So if you have a service dog in your life, make them feel extra appreciated. but I just wanted to kind of give just a little bit education. Like this is something that I didn't really know a lot about.

[00:23:35] I thought it was really cool to dive into how military working dogs are trained and then just the benefit. Of these dogs for veterans that are suffering at home. And I think that I'm really excited to get involved with the program that's here near me. And I will definitely be sharing about my experiences that I have with it on on Instagram.

[00:23:55] So make sure you're following me there and that's it until next time.