Man’s best friend helping war veterans heal
Of the more than 2 million U.S. troops deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan since October 2001, it’s estimated that one in five is likely to be afflicted by PTSD or major depression, according to the RAND Corp.
“Service dogs are but one tool, but they’re a very important tool, in the healing process for our veterans.”
Dogs can be trained to assist veterans in a variety of ways. For example, [they can] turn off lights and help create space between veterans and others in public places. The dog also helps them keep their anxiety level down in stressful situations.
The veterans “are taught to focus on the dog, read the dog’s body language, not to worry about the environment,” said Cortani, 55. “If they start to have a panic attack because they’re getting overwhelmed or the anxiety is so strong, they’ll actually stop and kneel down and hug the dog.”
Through her program, Cortani can match veterans with dogs from shelters or rescue groups. Then she helps them train the dog.
Cortani started training dogs more than 30 years ago while she was in the Army, and she translated that to civilian life, where she runs a canine obedience school. It was only recently that she started focusing on war veterans.
In 2009, she received a call from a Marine who had been waiting more than a year for a service dog. He was looking for a trainer who would help him train his Rottweiler puppy instead.
Cortani did extensive research about PTSD and service dogs, and in January 2010 she started working with the young veteran to train the dog for his individual needs.
Within a month, two other veterans contacted Cortani, and she matched them with dogs from shelters.
“The more veterans that started asking for help, the more I realized this is what I was supposed to do,” she said.
Since then, Cortani and her group have worked with more than 70 veterans from all over the United States.
“I connect with these veterans because I am a veteran,” she said. “I understand the military culture. I understand, to a certain extent, what they’ve gone through even though I haven’t walked in their shoes.”
Cortani has personally worked with every veteran and dog that has gone through her training program, which lasts at least eight months and can take as long as a year.
(Read full article | Vote for Mary Cortani as CNN Hero of the Year)