Bill could allow PTSD service dogs into public places

Published 7:00 am Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Post-traumatic stress disorder, is a major problem in American society. According to an article by the Nebraska Department of Veterans’ Affairs, approximately 7.8 percent of Americans experience PTSD at some point in their lives. Many sufferers served in the military.

“About 30 percent of the men and women who have spent time in war zones experience PTSD. An additional 20 to 25 percent have had partial PTSD at some point in their lives” the article states.

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Unfortunately, many sufferers of PTSD choose to end their lives prematurely. According to an article on the US Department of Veteran Affairs website, research shows that “there is a correlation between many types of trauma and suicidal behavior.”

There are several traditional treatments for those battling post-traumatic stress disorder, including therapy and medication. However, evidence shows that service dogs can help those suffering with stress-related symptoms. According to an article from the National Center for PTSD, service dogs make ideal companions that can bring out positive feelings in PTSD sufferers. They can also help reduce stress, encourage owners to go outside and help owners meet new people.

Currently in Mississippi only those with physical disabilities such as blindness, deafness, or with impaired mobility, among other things, are able to bring service dogs into places of business. However, if House Bill 944 is signed into law, those suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder will be able to bring service dogs to many public places.

While trained service dogs can improve the quality of life for PTSD sufferers, they may not be a viable solution for everyone. A great deal of work goes into training service dogs, and associated costs can rise into the tens of thousands. Alison Patrolia, Director of Training at Hattiesburg’s Hub City Dog Training center, said there are several steps that an individual must complete before qualifying for a service dog.

First, the individual must submit an application with a doctor’s note stating that the person would benefit from the presence of a service animal. A board at the training center then discusses the application and sets up preliminary meetings with the individual. Patrolia said there are several things that must be taken into consideration when determining whether someone is fit for a service dog – such as the ability to provide a suitable environment for the animal and the ability to pay for the animal’s training and medical costs. 

If approved, a dog has to be found that meets certain personality requirements, Patrolia said. While there is not a cut-off age for eligible dogs, the dog must be socialized and unafraid of new environments or situations. Bill Ryan, owner of Ryan’s Training Center & K9 Boot Camp in Slidell and Poplarville, says that once an eligible dog is found, the owner must be actively involved in the animal’s training. In order for the training to be successful it is conducted at the individual dog’s pace to ensure a strong bond is developed with the patient’s canine.

Several symptoms of PTSD can be alleviated with the presence of service dogs. For instance, some dogs are trained to sense when their owner is experiencing a panic attack, and will go to their side to calm them. Others are trained to carry medications and remind their owners when to take them. Patrolia says that the training of every dog is different and depends on the owner’s symptoms and personal needs.

While trained service dogs can help individuals suffering with PTSD in many ways, Patrolia cautions people to remember that service dogs are still animals.

“They are living, breathing creatures that need to be taken out every day, whether it’s raining or snowing. They’re not robots” Patrolia says.

Patrolia said that training a dog may be stressful during the first few weeks or months, especially for those who have never owned a dog before. However, she says that if the owner is patient and willing to work through the struggles of training, the animal will eventually be able to improve its owner’s quality of life.