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Service Dogs Help Traumatized Veterans Heal
Date:9/3/2009

These trained canines alert owners to warning signs of PTSD, experts say

THURSDAY, Sept. 3 (HealthDay News) -- Iraq war veteran Jennifer Pacanowski was unaware that she was racing dangerously down the freeway at 85 miles an hour when she felt a wet nose nudge her elbow.

She immediately slowed down.

The wet nose belonged to Boo, Pacanowski's 110-pound Bull Mastiff, warning her that her anxiety levels were rising, a dangerous state given that Pacanowski has post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from her experiences as a medic in the war.

Boo, who turned 1 in August, has been with Pacanowski, helping her deal with the world since last December.

"Sometimes I forget where I am and will go back to the war in Iraq. He brings me back to reality and makes me realize that I can't run people off the road. It's a frequent thing with PTSD to have road rage," said Pacanowski, who returned to the United States at the end of 2004 and now lives in northeastern Pennsylvania. "He's a comfort. I also know I'm not alone, and people can't just sneak up on me without his knowledge."

Boo is one of a team of "psychiatric service dogs" being used all over the country to help people with various mental health issues, including bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, anxiety disorders and, perhaps most notably, PTSD.

"If a dog observes when a person with PTSD is escalating, the dog will be able to signal that they are escalating and, given it's so early in process, the person can manage and even prevent the escalation," explained Joan Gibbon Esnayra, president and founder of the Psychiatric Dog Service Association.

The dogs have been in service for about 12 years and while patients and professionals alike know they work wonders, there has been no real empirical evidence of their value.

That's where the U.S. Department of Defense comes in. It's starting a 12-month study to find out exactly how the do
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