Documentary filmmaker Charlie Annenberg Weingarten saw up close the healing affect his dog “Lucky” had on a group of wounded veterans, the subjects of his film, “Fish Out of Water.”
That is one reason Weingarten’s philanthropic online community Dog Bless You is donating 11 service dogs to veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, also known as PTSD. The effort started Nov. 11 — Veteran’s Day — with the daily donation of a service dog. The program ends Nov. 22.
But Weingarten says he hopes the effort — chronicled on the Dog Bless You Facebook page — will generate wider support for programs providing service dogs to veterans.
“Dogs are guardians of the human spirit,” says Weingarten, who rescued Lucky about 14 years ago and has taken the golden retriever with him around the world making films for explore.org, a multimedia organization that documents selflessness. “The love, unconditionally. They forgive. I’ve seen how animals calm.”
More than 500,000 American combat veterans returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan have been diagnosed with PTSD. Service dogs can help many veterans cope with the symptoms of PTSD such as hypervigilance, night terrors and flashbacks, according to The Psychiatric Service Dog Society.
Service dogs perform a variety of tasks and meet an array of needs, Weingarten says. Because of the range of intensive training needed, the cost of a service dog may range from $600 to $25,000, Weingarten says.
“The companionship alone is priceless and it’s cheaper than stuffing pills down your throat,” he says.
The U.S. Department of Defense is conducting a study to determine the role of service dogs by comparing soldiers with PTSD who have dogs with a similar group of soldiers without dogs, according to a report by HealthDay. Researchers will track changes in symptoms and medication use.
"We want to provide evidence for something we know observationally and help create a movement towards the use of psychiatric service dogs," HeathDay quoted lead investigator Craig T. Love, senior study director at Westat, a research corporation in Rockville, Md. "It's time to make a change."
"A recent survey showed that 82 percent of patients with PTSD who were assigned a dog had a decrease in symptoms, and 40 percent had a decrease in the medications they had to take," said Dr. Melissa Kaime, director of the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program, in the interview with HealthDay.