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January 21, 2010

Service dogs provide protection and companionship
in times of trouble

By Rob McIlvaine
FMWRC Public Affairs

The Honorable John McHugh, 21st Secretary of the Army, visits the wounded warrior delegates and makes a special bond with Starsky, a Shih-Poo (Shih-Tzu Poodle hybrid).  Starsky, an official service dog, belongs to Vivica Stokes, seated next to McHugh. A formal program to provide service dogs for wounded warriors was announced during the culmination of the 2010 AFAP conference as the number two issue of the Top Five that will be discussed at this year’s GOSC (General Officer Steering Committee) meeting. (Photo by Rob McIlvaine, FMWRC Public Affairs)
ARLINGTON, Va. – Vivica Stokes, a member of Army Wounded Warriors from South Carolina who suffers from PTSD-related symptoms, has been living in this area with her dog, Starsky, a Shih-Poo, in order to complete the training needed to understand and utilize the caring bond a dog can provide to wounded warriors.

“I’m really excited…I mean, it’s a breakthrough that funding of a formal program to provide service dogs for wounded warriors is one of the top five issues voted on by the delegates at this year’s Army Family Action Plan conference,” Stokes said.

The two have completed basic courses in socialization and obedience at the Psychiatric Service Dog Society in Arlington, Va. over the past year, and are about to enter another set of learning activities designed to give the dog the ability to assist with the management of psychological symptoms.

The Psychiatric Service Dog Society is dedicated to responsible psychiatric service dog education, advocacy, research, and training.

“Starsky is able to sense when I’m experiencing an anxiety attack and he will alert me by coming up and licking me and giving me the warmth I need,” said Stokes, who works at Headquarters Army Material Command at Ft. Belvoir.

All 10 delegates at the conference greeted Secretary of the Army John McHugh when he approached their booth outside of the conference hall, but it was Starsky who stole the show when he jumped into the Secretary’s arms.

“Service dogs have an invaluable role in the lives of Army Wounded Warrior Soldiers and Veterans,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Robert Gallagher.

“They perform many tasks, such as reminding our warriors to take medication, providing space for our warriors in crowds, and waking up our veterans during nightmares. These dogs have made the difference between a veteran staying inside his or her home with the curtains drawn and a veteran being outside interacting with the community,” Gallagher said.

According to an Information Paper at the 2010 AFAP Conference, “It has long been noted in medical literature that animal assistance programs help patients of all types recover and heal from wounds, injuries, and illnesses.  For example, a recent study noted patients undergoing hip replacement required 50% less pain medicine when they engage in animal assisted therapy.”

The Army has begun a test program entitled “Paws for Purple Hearts” (www.assistancedog.org) at Walter Reed Army Medical Center Warrior Transition Unit in which service dogs are trained and subsequently provided to a select group of warriors in transition. Other programs where veterans have been referred include Canine Companions for Independence Veterans Program (www.cci.org), America’s VetDogs (www.guidedog.org/vetdogs) and Neads Canines for Combat Veterans (www.neads.org).



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