With your help, 100 veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) could soon have extra assistance in the form of a free service dog.
The dogs will be donated by Explore.org, the multimedia arm of the Annenberg Foundation. Up to 100 dogs, valued at $500,000, will be donated to veterans — one dog for every 5,000 "likes" received at the Dog Bless You Facebook community. The initiative aims to spread awareness about the healing role dogs can play in the lives of those suffering from PTSD.
Dog Bless You was founded by filmmaker Charles Annenberg Weingarten, a trustee of the Annenberg Foundation and also the founder of Explore.org. Partners in this effort include the IAVA (Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America) and other veteran and service dog organizations.
"Dogs are serving this country unlike any other animal — from the battlefields of war, to the front lines of search and rescue to the ranks of police and fire forces across this country to the everyday person in need of a companion," said Weingarten in a prepared statement. "We want to raise awareness about the amazing role dogs can play in the lives of veterans and people who suffer from emotional and psychological damage, while giving everyone a chance to participate through a zero-cost contribution."
"Doctors, psychologists, and certainly veterans will all attest to the incredible benefits dogs bring to those suffering from the impact of war," said Paul Rieckhoff, executive director and founder of IAVA.
PTSD service dogs can help veterans and other trauma survivors to reduce their anxiety levels and — for those who are physically disabled — navigate through the world. They can also be trained to wake their humans up from nightmares or to remind them to take their medications. "I see big increases in confidence with the dogs," Jennifer Petre, founder of the service-dog training organization Stiggy's Dogs recently told Hometownlife.com. "The veterans aren't as worried as much with the dog. It takes pressure off them."
According to a survey by the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program (cited by a report at PsychCentral), 82 percent of patients with PTSD who received service dogs experienced a decrease in symptoms, while 40 percent found they were able to reduce their medications.
In addition to simply liking the Dog Bless You Facebook page, people are invited to upload patriotic photos and videos and share personal dog-related stories.
"I'm sure during the course of this campaign, we'll see and hear some amazing stories from our brave service people whose dogs have been a prime source of salvation," said Rieckhoff.
According to the nonprofit Guardian Angels Medical Service Dogs, it costs about $20,000 to raise, train and place a medical service dog.
The Dog Bless USA Challenge Grant runs from Memorial Day (May 30) through July 4.