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    Man’s best friend helps NC Guardsman with PTSD

    Man’s best friend helps NC Guardsman with PTSD

    Photo By Staff Sgt. Mary Junell | Rosco, a post-traumatic stress disorder companion animal, stands behind his owner Sgt....... read more read more

    CHARLOTTE, NC, UNITED STATES

    01.11.2014

    Story by Staff Sgt. Mary Junell 

    130th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade

    CHARLOTTE, N.C. - When Rosco walked into the North Carolina Army National Guard Armory in Charlotte, N.C., Jan. 11, 2013, everyone noticed. Every soldier, male and female, turned their heads as he entered the room; his golden hair flowing, his tail wagging and a great big smile on his face.

    Rosco is not just any ordinary dog though; he is a post-traumatic stress disorder companion animal.

    The dog belongs to Army Sgt. 1st Class Jason Syriac, a military police officer with the NCNG’s Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 130th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade.

    “Rosco is a companion animal,” said Syriac, who copes with from PTSD. “He is certified to go into buildings but he has no specific job but to be a therapeutic dog.”

    Training for a companion animal varies depending on where it is trained, but most dogs require one to three weeks or more of training based on the skills they are required to perform.

    Dogs like Rosco, who are strictly there for companionship and emotional support, do not require as much training. However, some dogs may learn how to turn on lights in a house if the service member is afraid of going into a dark house or to alert their owner if there is a situation that may trigger their PTSD.

    “A companion animal has to qualify as a good-citizen dog,” said Syriac. “It has to go through a series of tests and training to make sure the dog is qualified as a good-citizen; that he won’t be aggressive or be nervous or bite anybody.”

    Several organizations across the country train companion animals and bring dogs and service members with PTSD together.

    Triumphant Tails, Inc., an organization based out of Raleigh N.C., trains service dogs for people with disabilities, including PTSD.

    “Training a service dog for a service member with PTSD can take from 6-12 months depending on what tasks the service dog needs to perform for the handler,” said Megan Standish, founder and head trainer at Triumphant Tails.

    Standish, a former Army captain, suffered a traumatic brain injury while serving in Iraq, which causes her to suffer seizures. She started Triumphant Tails after being introduced to therapy and service dogs during her recovery.

    She said her personal service dog alerts her when she is about to have a seizure so she can take her medication. The dogs she trains can also perform a variety of tasks to help their handlers.

    “Some of the tasks these dogs can perform are blocking, waking a handler during a nightmare and retrieving medications so the handler doesn't forget to take them,” Standish said. “Dogs can also retrieve items on command, call 911 in an emergency and turn on lights. We can tailor each dog to the specific need of each handler.”

    In addition to being helpful, there are many benefits to the relationship formed between the service members and their dog.

    “Some people, all they need is a buddy to be there for them between their ups and downs and not judge,” Syriac said. “Dogs are always happy to see you. They are not going to betray you or leave you for another owner.”

    Service members with PTSD can sometimes be tense and worried. Syriac said having a companion animal like Rosco around could distract from those feelings and helps service members deal with their surroundings.

    “Everyone flocks over Rosco,” Syriac said. “People ask to pet him and they love on him and they get down on the floor with him. He brings happiness to everyone.”

    “That’s another benefit of companion animals,” he said. “If other people are happy and you see other people being happy, your tendency is to become happy as well. It’s contagious.”

    Standish said this interaction can be a benefit and help start the recovery process for service members with PTSD.

    “A dog forces you to get out and interact with society,” Standish said. “Even just taking your dog for a walk two times a day and acknowledging and answering questions and comments like ‘Your dog is so pretty’ or ‘What is his name,’ is a great start to learning how to function in society again.”

    Dogs need exercise and so do service members recovering from PTSD.

    “You know your dog needs exercise so you are definitely going to bring the dog out and exercise it,” Syriac said. “Exercise benefits those suffering with PTSD.”

    And that is what Syriac said works for him, exercise and a companion animal. He said those two things keep him centered and relaxed.

    Syriac, a two-time Iraq veteran, spends his free time rescuing dogs from kill shelters in the Raleigh area; training them and familiarizing them with domestic environments (or “re-homing” them) to civilians and service members so that they too can enjoy the benefits he said he gets from Rosco.

    “There are a lot of high-kill shelters in the area where a lot of dogs just need a home,” he said. “So I scoop them up and re-home; I train them and integrate them into society and introduce them to other dogs. Rosco has seen 18 dogs come through my home in the past year and he welcomed them all with open paws.”

    Of those 18 dogs, four became companion animals, and Syriac has no problem traveling to get K-9s to their new homes. He has driven as far north as Boston and as far south as Florida to bring dogs to their new owners.

    Syriac hopes that others will get to experience the joy and benefits of having a dog as a companion.

    “Rosco is always there for me,” he said. “Even if I’m having a miserable day, I can just look at Rosco and he makes me happy.”

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    NEWS INFO

    Date Taken: 01.11.2014
    Date Posted: 01.17.2014 15:34
    Story ID: 119322
    Location: CHARLOTTE, NC, US 

    Web Views: 1,021
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