Compassion takes many forms; for some it comes with four paws and a wet nose. Dogs have long been deemed “man’s best friend,” but this title takes on a deeper meaning when considering their supportive roles as service and therapy dogs. Service dogs can provide aid to individuals that struggle to perform daily tasks on their own. These disabilities can be physical or mental. For instance, veterans returning from service with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can find the comforting aid of a service dog extremely beneficial in their readaptation to civilian life. PTSD can wreak havoc on the lives of veterans, resulting in paranoia, depression, and sometimes substance abuse. Many times suffering veterans distance themselves from other people, even concerned family members. Service dogs can breach their seclusion and make a soulful connection with the individual.
Service dogs can perform a variety of helpful tasks and guide their handler towards a more balanced and scheduled day. Through their training, the dogs become alert and attentive to their handler’s needs and fluctuating mental and physical state. One such veteran said of a vivid nightmare, “I was startled awake, only to find the lights already on. My service dog […] nudges my arm and handed me a cold bottle of water. I hugged the cool container to my chest, rocking slightly, as she jumped into bed with me and laid across my legs. Abandoning the water, I wrapped my arms around her as her soothing weight began to settle my nerves. […] The nightmare was long gone so we settled back down to sleep.” This true story illustrates the emotional support provided by service dogs in their partnership with their handler. Service dogs’ heightened ability to sense their well-being allows for them to step in and interrupt whatever vicious flashback or episode is underway for their handler and friend. Through their work, these dogs are able to make a dramatic difference in the lives of their owners who have given up so much for the wellbeing of others.