By Megan Hawker, IMF #65325
ACI Clinical Specialist
Captain, Medical Service Corps, US Army Reserves
A diagnosis is not necessary to reap the many benefits that animals can offer veterans. As more veterans make the transition back into civilian life, it’s important not to overlook the value of a furry companion.
In addition to lowering blood pressure and strengthening the immune response, time spent with an animal has also been shown to boost positivity and decrease the chance of depression. This is good news for the nearly one in five veterans who suffer from depression, and everybody else who could use a little ‘pick me up.’
2. Back to the structure and routine
After years of structure, routine and discipline being pounded into veteran’s heads, post-military life can seem chaotic or sometimes without purpose. The structure required to feed, exercise and train a dog can provide veterans with much needed structure in their lives. Additionally, the discipline and persistence required to train a dog provides linkage to those important aspects which were once a daily aspect of military life.
3. Unconditional acceptance
The number of veterans and service members from Afghanistan and Iraq accounts for less than 2% of the population. It is no wonder some feel out of place with civilian counterparts. However, when in the presence of a devoted pet, this is rarely true. Dogs have evolved from their wolf ancestors to become our best friends. Dogs have developed the skill of meticulously tracking our movements, facial expressions, emotions and they read and react accordingly. Have you ever had a dog come lick your face while you were crying, or simply lay down next to you to offer their support? Dogs are gifted with an emotionally intuitive nature that few humans rival.
4. Break the cycle of isolation
Your four-legged friend may even help you find a date! Walking with your dog makes you more approachable than walking alone, potentially increasing your interaction with others. Dogs are great for getting us out the door to exercise, which also increases feelings of well-being.
5. Can a dog save your life?
A significant indicator of suicide is severe depression. Not only do animals assist in alleviating depression, our animals hold us accountable. They depend on us for exercise, food and grooming. The accountability can be a powerful factor for individuals struggling. Individuals that are depended upon live longer and more fulfilling lives.
Do you have a story about a dog that’s helped you get through a tough time that you’d like to share? Reach out to ACI on Twitter @ACISpecBenefits, Facebook, or in the comments section below. Check out the Paws-itive Benefits of Veteran Pet Ownership video on YouTube, and stay turned each month to hear more tips and stories from ACI’s Megan Hawker!