I have seen many television news reports and read many news magazines and newspapers about the large number of military personnel returning home who are suffering with many post-war emotional conditions. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is the formal name, but the name doesn’t begin to address the magnitude of the problems these men and women face. Often ignored are the military dogs that suffer from it as well. These wonderful, dutiful, and loyal animals serve many purposes during war times, but most commonly are used in bomb detection, rescue efforts, protection, and to search for cadavers.
Such dogs serve a finite period of time, just like their human counterparts, and they return home with many of the same shifts in mood and behavior, such as being withdrawn and timid, sudden aggression, changes in appetite, avoiding people or places, or extreme reactions to seemingly simple benign things. Estimates suggest that about 5% of military dogs experience some measure of PTSD – some experience acute episodes and others experience chronic episodes. About half of those diagnosed are retired from services because their condition is too severe.
I was surprised to learn that there are veterinarians specially trained to diagnose and treat PTSD, and treatment has generally been successful and many of these animals quickly return to work. Those for which treatment is unsuccessful are returned home for additional treatment and either returned to work CONUS to perform different, less taxing duties or are retired completely from military service. A military facility at Lackland Air Force base in Texas has a comprehensive treatment clinic specifically devoted to treat and care for dogs that have served the military and law enforcement. Border Patrol animals and Customs animals are also treated there.
If you’re a dog lover, don’t feel too bad. There are efforts to connect those dogs that are retired with loving homes. There is growing interest in animal adoption organizations to include former war dogs. It’s a win-win for everyone. The military doesn’t want to abandon these animals, who still have many years of life remaining; animal lovers and animal rights activists like the idea of the animals getting loving homes; and the animals themselves can still live out their lives in meaningful ways. To me, the latter is the best part of the adoptions.
Isn’t this great? But I wonder if the animals get completely cured? I know a few people with post-war PTSD who never were quite right afterwards. You can tell as soon as you meet them that something is a little off. It’s probably the same way with the dogs too.