Dogs provide ‘life-changing’ treatment for veterans with PTSD

Published: 11 Jun 2015

Author: Garry Botterill
Dogs provide ‘life-changing’ treatment for veterans with PTSD

Through his Churchill Fellowship, Sergeant Garry Botterill from Sussex Police has been able to research the huge difference dogs can make in mitigating Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptoms in veterans of the Armed Forces and Emergency Services.

 If it wasn't for RC [his dog] I would not be in existence today - you'd be talking about me, not with me.

- Veteran Will Rogers

Garry visited leading organisations in the US and the Netherlands during his Fellowship, which was awarded to him by the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust.

In the USA, where it is estimated that between 18 - 22 veterans commit suicide daily, he met a veteran, Will Rogers, who lost 15 of his friends and colleagues in conflict. Will is convinced that if it wasn't for his dog ‘RC’, he too would be part of this tragic statistic.

Garry says, “Assistance dogs and veterans become ‘partners’: they train together and rely on each other, just as they would with their colleagues and comrades. The bond that is created is both powerful and enabling. Close interaction with dogs produces oxytocin which reduces stress. Assistance dogs wake veterans from night ‘terrors’ and help with anxiety attacks. They encourage veterans to re-engage with society, go for walks and become more sociable.”

Garry stayed with the Bergin University, California, before meeting the founders of Paws and Stripes in New Mexico. He visited Palmetto Animal Assisted Life Services (PAALS) in Columbia, then in Washington DC he met Rick Yount, the driving force of Warrior Canine Connection who successfully campaigned for Congress to invest $7m into researching the benefits of dogs to PTSD sufferers. The last stop was the Royal Dutch Guide Dog Foundation, Netherlands, where their 'Buddy Dog' project is making a profound difference to veterans.

The most effective practices that Garry has identified during his travels will be applied to Service Dogs UK, a new charitable organisation which he and Judith Broug have established. Work will begin on training rescue dogs to become assistance dogs for those with PTSD this summer. The organisation needs donations to fund the ongoing work and relies on public generosity to help UK veterans.

Contact Garry: garry.botterill@ntlworld.com