Wolves Help Veterans Cope with PTSD

By Victoria Kim 01/07/16

There is growing evidence that canine-assisted therapy could possibly be very beneficial to those with PTSD. 

Photo via Shutterstock

Animal-assisted therapy is known for its calming effect and ability to draw out even the most isolated personality. Horses, dogs, even dolphins have had a positive effect on people struggling with depression, schizophrenia, mood disorders and substance abuse. 

This is the idea behind the Warriors and Wolves program at Lockwood Animal Rescue Center in Frazier Park, California, where rescue wolves and wolf-dogs work with military veterans to help them recover from the trauma of military service.

“Conventional therapy didn’t help,” said Jim Minick, a veteran and manager at the rescue center. “After 10 years of military life, it was a tough transition. Had I continued down the course of being angry, drinking myself to death may have been the last chapter of my life.”

There is growing evidence that bonding with canines has biological effects, such as elevated levels of oxytocin, which improves trust, the ability to interpret facial expressions, the overcoming of paranoia and other pro-social effects—“the opposite of PTSD symptoms,” Meg Daley Olmert, who works for Warrior Canine Connection, said in Smithsonian Magazine. 

Roughly 30% of post-9/11 veterans treated at VA medical facilities have screened positive for PTSD.

Interacting with wolves has a unique effect on veterans that they can’t get with conventional therapy or medicine. “They kind of teach you how to be calm and confident,” said Minick. “It’s got some deeper meaning when they accept you. They accept you into the family, part of the pack.”

A new study is underway at Purdue University that seeks to answer the question: Do service dogs have a tangible effect on veterans with PTSD and other anxiety-related conditions? The findings could affect whether veterans with mental health disorders would qualify to receive a service dog. 

Currently, the Veterans Affairs Department provides service dogs to veterans with certain physical disabilities, but not mental health disorders, because there is not yet enough evidence that shows animals help with PTSD.

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