Animal Assisted Therapy: Lending a Hoof or a Paw to Veterans with PTSD

Part of human survival is the activation of flight or fight response in times of danger. That is why individuals who have been exposed to traumatic events and were unable to move forward succumb to Post- Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Veterans who fought bravely at war are especially vulnerable to this disorder. Some may be physically handicapped; however, others are emotionally scarred and still can’t take a step towards recovery. Numerous factors can contribute to the healing process of persons with PTSD. The length of time for a patient to recover depends on the number of traumatic events they experienced and the support given to them to overcome such hurdles.

On the same note, humans aren’t the only ones who can give assistance, but animals can also lend a hoof or a paw. According to the National Institutes for Health, PTSD can cause a dramatic change in one’s behavior, makes them behave aggressively and feel irritable. However, animal interactions can counter through increasing the level of oxytocin released in our body that can help in lowering blood pressure, slowing down one’s heart rate, and preventing the production of stress hormones. When we say emotional support animals, the first thing that comes to mind is a man’s best friend, a dog. They are loyal, compassionate, and are excellent companions. Using the aid of animals and giving guided interaction between them and the patient is called Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT)or simply pet therapy. This intervention has shown promising results noting an 82% reduction in symptoms, as stated by Debra Mims and Rhondda Waddell in an article for Animal Assisted Therapy and Trauma Survivors. However, compatibility plays a significant role in choosing your spirit animal. If you feel like a dog is not the right fit, horses are as good as them.

Manette Monroe, an assistant professor of pathology at the University of Central Florida College of Medicine in Orlando, researched equine therapy’s effect on individuals with PTSD. She stated that Veterans with PTSD live in the same state of hyper-vigilance as horses as an effect of their past experiences. Thus, caring and riding a horse can mirror their own emotional state and give them the confidence to manifest in their daily lives, by doing something out of their comfort zones such as taking care and interacting with a big animal.

Many organizations offer equine therapy as assistance to Veterans, one of them is Saddles in Service They incorporate our heroes with their horses to achieve healing through giving Active Duty Military, Veterans, Firefighters, Law Enforcement Officers, and first responders unique healing alongside a rescue horse. Men and women alike experience stressors. Sometimes, it is too much to handle; however, they are given a chance at healing, and it’s in their hands to take it. So, if you think you have an affinity for horses, don’t hesitate to involve yourself as a volunteer willing to lend a hand or seek help. Saddles in Service welcomes both.

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