Lake Charles Pit Bull Rescue and The Positive Pit Project provide service dogs to veterans suffering from PTSD. All of our dogs are “rescued” dogs, which are defined as “pulled” from a shelter or saved from a bad situation. With these programs we are saving two lives at once. Our dogs are provided to the veteran as a donation, with all costs covered by us and/or a sponsor for the dog/veteran.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event — either experiencing it or witnessing it. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event (http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/post-traumatic-stress-disorder/basics/definition/con-20022540). When in danger, it’s natural to feel afraid. This fear triggers many split-second changes in the body to prepare to defend against the danger or to avoid it. This “fight-or-flight” response is a healthy reaction meant to protect a person from harm. But in PTSD, this reaction is changed or damaged. People who have PTSD may feel stressed or frightened even when they’re no longer in danger. Symptoms of PTSD include Re-experiencing symptoms: Flashbacks—reliving the trauma over and over, including physical symptoms like a racing heart or sweating, Bad dreams, and Frightening thoughts. (Re-experiencing symptoms may cause problems in a person’s everyday routine. They can start from the person’s own thoughts and feelings. Words, objects, or situations that are reminders of the event can also trigger re-experiencing.) Avoidance symptoms: Staying away from places, events, or objects that are reminders of the experience, Feeling emotionally numb, Feeling strong guilt, depression, or worry, Losing interest in activities that were enjoyable in the past, Having trouble remembering the dangerous event (Things that remind a person of the traumatic event can trigger avoidance symptoms. These symptoms may cause a person to change his or her personal routine. For example, after a being in a vehicle bombed by an Air to Ground Missile, a veteran may not be comfortable in a car, and be unable to drive.) Hyperarousal symptoms: Being easily startled, Feeling tense or “on edge”, Having difficulty sleeping, and/or having angry outbursts. (Hyperarousal symptoms are usually constant, instead of being triggered by things that remind one of the traumatic event. They can make the person feel stressed and angry. These symptoms may make it hard to do daily tasks, such as sleeping, eating, or concentrating.)
Our dogs are classified as “Medical Alert” service dogs. Some skills that medical response dogs can be trained to perform include, but are not limited to, seeking out another individual when their handlers are experiencing a medical crisis and need help, positioning their handlers in a manner that will keep them safe during a seizure, retrieving emergency medication, dialing 911 on phones equipped for use by service dogs and a wide variety of unique skills that not only give the gift of independence, but can also mean the difference between life and death for their handlers. A few of the skills that our service dogs are trained to perform are reminding a veteran to take his medicine, turning lights on in a dark house, wake a veteran up from a night terror, lean into and comfort their veteran during a panic attack and even help to bring them out of a panic attack by licking their face, and placing their head on their veterans shoulder while driving.
All of our service dogs are CGC certified, have service dog certification, Community canine certification, and are AKC registered. The Canine Good Citizen (CGC) program, established in 1989, is an American Kennel Club program to promote responsible dog ownership and to encourage the training of well-mannered dogs. A dog and handler team must take a short behavioral evaluation of less than half an hour; dogs who pass the evaluation earn the Canine Good Citizen certificate. The evaluation consists of ten objectives. Test items include: Accepting a friendly stranger, Sitting politely for petting, Allowing basic grooming procedures, Walking on a loose lead, Walking through a crowd, Sitting and lying down on command and staying in place, Coming when called, Reacting appropriately to another dog, Reacting appropriately to distractions, and Calmly enduring supervised separation from the owner. AKC Community Canine is the advanced level of AKC’s Canine Good Citizen (CGC) program. As with CGC, AKC Community Canine requires a 10-step test that dogs must pass to earn the official AKC Community Canine title: Dog sits or lies down and waits under control, Walks on a loose leash in a natural situation (not in a ring)—does not pull, Walks on a loose leash through a crowd, Dog walks past distraction dogs present; does not pull, Sit-stay in small group (3 other people with dogs), Dog allows person who is carrying something to approach and pet it, “Leave it.” Dog walks by food and follows owner instructions, “Leave it”, Down and sit/stay, Recall (coming when called) with distractions present, and Dog will enter/exit a doorway or passageway with owner and remain under control.
Training for our service dogs can take up to a year. Each dog is trained in basic obedience, CGC and Community Canine, which takes approximately 100 hrs. Once a dog has 100 hours of documented training, their “public access” training can begin. This training can take between 50-100 hours of training. Our dogs continue their training with veteran after “hand over”. Our dogs have a total of approximately 300 hours of documented training.
All veterans accepted into our program must be med compliant, in counseling, must sign a HIPPA agreement to allow us access to their medical records as well as counselor, and after “hand off” continue training. (Megan, our trainer, has a checklist to ensure the dog is still “working”.)
Our dogs do many things, amongst assisting with diffusing PTSD triggers to assisting in mobility as well.