CA: Group matches PTSD vets with service dogs
Away from home, out among the crowds, the noise and uncertainties that enflame his anxieties, Quintus Price tends to get “paranoid,” he says, especially if his wife Gloria isn’t at his side.
“I have a lot of issues with people — going places, doing things,” says the 28-year-old Army veteran. “It’s bad when you can’t go to the gas station alone.”
But on a sunny spring morning last week, Price ventured from his Midtown home with Gloria and their 5-year-old daughter Lilith and traveled to an East Memphis business office. It was a trip that proved highly rewarding..
Waiting for Price at the building was Huck, a gentle, friendly, 75-pound stress-reliever. The sandy colored dog, a 1½-year-old lab-pit mix, sidled up to Price gently, but without hesitation.
“For the most part, he just sits here against my knee, which is fine,” Price said as he reached to pet the dog.
Veterans such as Price are the focus of a non-profit Memphis group known as the Paul Oliver Foundation. Founded in 2014, it provides service animals to veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries.
The foundation is named in honor of Paul Oliver, a Marine veteran who struggled with the effects of PTSD and a traumatic brain injury after returning to Memphis from deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan before dying in December 2013 from what was ruled an accidental drug overdose. His story was chronicled in a June 2014 article in The Commercial Appeal.
After devoting its first few years getting established and raising funds, the group recently began matching veterans with dogs. The foundation so far has provided dogs for four veterans, and it’s working with two others, said Amanda Butler, co-founder and president.
The task is challenging because each dog can cost the group up to $11,000 to $20,000 in veterinarians’ charges, food, supplies and training, Butler said. Many of the dogs are rescues from shelters. Huck had been a stray living in some woods in the Collierville area.
After a veteran’s application for a dog is approved, the group brings him or her into the training process “so we can focus on what they really need, their unique needs,” Butler said.
The foundation is among several groups nationwide matching service animals with veterans diagnosed with PTSD and TBI. Proponents say the bond the veterans form with dogs alleviates their sense of isolation and the hyper-vigilance associated with the disorder.
“When they’re interacting with the dog, you can see them relax,” Butler said.
According to some preliminary research, the interaction with dogs might even produce biological effects, lowering veterans’ blood pressure and boosting their levels of oxytocin, a powerful hormone and neurotransmitter, allowing them to overcome paranoia.
With training, the animals also can head off panic attacks, Butler said. “The dog will recognize that and take them out of that moment.”
Butler witnessed the benefits a dog can bring while watching Oliver, with whom she was a friend, and his dog Scout. The dog “was a great source of comfort to him,” she said.
Still, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs does not provide service dogs for PTSD-afflicted veterans, citing insufficient evidence that the animals truly help in treatment. The VA even advises against veterans becoming too dependent on dogs, which could impede their progress. And although dogs may help in some cases, they cannot be a substitute for such proven treatment methods as cognitive processing therapy and prolonged exposure therapy, according to the department.
Directed by Congress, the VA launched a three-year study, due to be completed in 2018, to determine whether veterans with PTSD benefit from service dogs or emotional support dogs.
For Price, who served in Iraq in 2009 and 2010, the answer seemed clear last week. “I’m feeling really positive about this dog,” he said.