Tag Archives: post traumatic stress disorder

Dogs help heal wounds in war-torn Uganda


Eleven years after a civil war in Uganda, many are still coping with the scars it left — inside and out — and some are finding that a dog can help them do that.

That was the case with Francis Okello Oloya, who in 2015 started The Comfort Dog Project to help people in Gulu town, especially those who were suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety.

At age 12, Okello was blinded by a bomb blast as he worked in the family garden. At a boarding school for the blind, Okello found it difficult to find the toilet at night.

“I had to navigate my way from the sleeping quarter to latrine and that was not easy,” he told the Voice of America. “And these dogs came to know that I needed help. And they began the practice of helping me from the sleeping quarters to the latrine.”

Now 29, he’s in charge of a program that matches street dogs with war’s victims, providing comfort to those victims, homes for those street mutts, and adding to a growing recognition in Uganda of what dogs are capable of.

Traditionally, dogs have mainly been used for hunting in Uganda, or for security.

The Comfort Dog Project is an offshoot of Big Fix Uganda, a nonprofit working to improve the lives of dogs and people in the impoverished and war-torn country.

As explained on the Comfort Dogs website, dogs in need of homes are rehabilitated by a team of trainers, temperament tested and spayed/neutered. They are then placed with war trauma survivors who agree to care for the dog for its lifetime and go through a week of training.

uganda2After graduating, the dog-guardian teams become project ambassadors — visiting villages and schools to
educate others about the importance of being kind to animals, teach them to use positive reinforcement training techniques and “serve as testimony of the healing power of human-dog bonds.”

In the aftermath of the civil war in Uganda, tens of thousands of people still struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder and mental health practitioners estimate that seven in 10 people in Northern Uganda were traumatically affected.

Philda Akum, 35, is one of the 29 beneficiaries of the project, Voice of America reports.

In 1997, she and her four brothers were abducted by those rebelling against the government and taken to Sudan.

One brother was captured and killed, Akum says. Another brother was selected to go to the battlefront and was fatally shot. Two days later, her youngest brother contracted cholera and died.

She returned home and joined group therapy, which is what led her to be assigned a dog.

The Big Fix operates the only veterinary hospital in northern Uganda and works to achieve a sustainable population of dogs and cats and control the spread of rabies and other diseases.

(Photo: Francis Okello Oloya, founder of The Comfort Dog Project, with Binongo; Philda Akum, a former war victim, with her dog; by H. Athumani, Voice of America)

Woman gets very crabby about service dog in Delaware restaurant

A customer who went ballistic over the presence of a veteran’s service dog in a Delaware seafood restaurant has defended her tirade, saying she was the victim of racial slurs.

Ciara Miller, the woman seen yelling in the now viral video, says that before the camera was turned on during the confrontation at Kathy’s Crab House in Delaware City, racial epithets were directed at her by “six or seven people.”

And she told FOX 29 that she stands firm in her belief that her dining experience should not have been spoiled by a dog.

“No, actually I don’t regret how vocal I was. I reacted based on the way they reacted to me,” Miller said.

The dog in question is JP, a Great Dane belonging to retired US Air National Guard Force Master Sgt. Bill Austin who suffers from PTSD. JP was wearing a vest indicating he was a service dog.

Miller objected that her family was seated in close proximity to the dog.

“The dog’s body was about the same height as the table. Basically, the butt was sitting in front of me at the table,” she can be heard to say in the video.

When someone tried to explain to her that JP was a service dog, belonging to a veteran who fought for the country, she responded, “Congratulations, congratulations. My husband’s dad did too … My husband’s dad fought for the fucking country …I don’t care, I don’t care … There should be a separate section for a f—ing animal.”

Bill+Austin+and+JP+Service+DogAustin, meanwhile, said no one said anything racial to Miller, that she started the argument, and that his dog behaved appropriately.

“I really am hoping something positive comes out of this,” Austin said. “This is about bad behavior.”

Since the video went viral, Miller says she has been harassed online.

“I am frightened to send my daughter to school with the level of verbal content is being said to and about me, my family and I based on these fake articles,” Miller said in an email to the Wilmington News Journal.

Kathy’s Crab House issued a statement apologizing for the “embarassing turn of events … It is unfortunate that some of the public are not familiar with federal regulations regarding service animals, which, in fact, do permit service animals into establishments such as grocery stores, public buildings and restaurants …”

The restaurant announced it will be sponsoring a fundraising effort for veterans and service animals.

(Photo: Bill Austin, with his wife and, in the foreground, JP, photo provided by Austin)

Mom misses son’s wedding after church refuses to admit her PTSD service dog

A church in Michigan refused to admit the mother of the groom to his wedding, saying its rules prohibited dogs inside the church — even service dogs.

Mary Douglas says her PTSD service dog, Stella, wasn’t allowed into the Word of Life Outreach Center in Quincy, causing her to miss the ceremony.

According to its “statement of faith,” as presented on its website, the non-denominational church believes in “One True God” and “Divine Healing” and “speaking in tongues.”

But apparently it does not believe too strongly in the Americans with Disabilities Act.

As a result, Douglas was left saddened and angry about missing her son’s wedding.

“I’ve sacrificed as any single mom, any mom really, does for their children. For that not to be reciprocated, that honor not to be due to a mom on her son’s wedding day, it’s heartbreaking,” Douglas said.

Douglas has had the service dog for almost two years, and says she feared having a “relapse,” if she entered the church without Stella, according to WWMT in western Michigan, which first reported the story.

“I’ve cried a lot. It was a very sleepless night last night,” Douglas said.

Douglas has filed a civil rights complaint with the Michigan Department of Civil Rights.

Pastor Robert Montgomery said the church tried to work with Douglas in the weeks leading up to the wedding, giving her “three options” to attend.

He didn’t specify what those options were, and neither did the news report.

It also didn’t address why the son and his bride-to-be held the wedding at the Word of Life Outreach Center, given in all likelihood they — or at least he — should have learned at some point that his mother would have difficulty attending.

Montgomery says the church has a “no animal policy” and that the policy that includes service dogs.

“The difficulty we find in letting animals in, so people know, if you have people that have a fear of animals or an allergy to animals, it makes it very difficult,” he said.

Veteran who videotaped killing of her support dog found dead in suspected suicide

rollins2The North Carolina veteran who videotaped herself and her boyfriend killing her emotional support dog has been found dead of suspected suicide.

Fayetteville Police Department Lt. Todd Joyce said Marinna Rollins was found dead in her apartment Sunday.

Her death is being investigated as a suicide, the Fayetteville Observer reports.

Rollins was 23.

Rollins and her 25-year-old boyfriend, Jarren Heng, were charged last month with cruelty to animals after investigators say they tied the pit bull mix to a tree and shot it multiple times with a rifle, laughing while they videotaped it.

They later posted the video on Facebook.

Rollins was scheduled to appear in court on the charges next week.

Court documents show Rollins received a medical retirement from the Army in January, and family and friends says she struggled with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after a traumatic experience while serving in South Korea.

The slain dog had been adopted by from the Cumberland County Animal Shelter by Rollins’ estranged husband. When he was deployed to South Korea, he left the dog in Rollins’ care. She changed the dog’s name from Huey to Camboui and had him certified as an emotional service animal.

Rollins and her boyfriend, Jarren Heng, 25, who is an Army special operations soldier, were charged with animal cruelty and conspiracy in April after the video surfaced on Facebook.

The dog’s body was found in a wooded area in Hartnett County.

Rollins was out on bail of $25,000. Heng remains out on bail in the same amount and has a May 16 court date.

Friends who had been unable to reach Rollins found her dead in her apartment.

Other than calling it a suspected suicide, authorities wouldn’t comment on the cause of death.

Questions swirling about VA’s ongoing, slow-moving study of psychiatric service dogs

It has been more than five years since Congress approved a $12 million Veterans Administration study into whether veterans with PTSD can benefit from psychiatric service dogs.

Since then hundreds of veterans with PTSD have been learning first hand of those benefits — but either on their own dime, or with help from nonprofit agencies.

Meanwhile, the study hasn’t gotten too far. It has been suspended twice, and reinstated twice, moving along at a snail’s pace. Or what some might call the VA’s pace.

There are even those, such as Rick Yount, executive director of the nonprofit Warrior Canine Connection, who have questioned whether the study had been set up to fail so that the VA wouldn’t have to pick up expenses for psychiatric service dogs, as it does for service dogs helping veterans with physical disabilities.

The VA’s chief veterinary medical officer, Michael Fallon, called that insinuation “ludicrous.”

And yet, during the past five years, the study has gone anything but smoothly.

ptsd2The study began in late 2011, with three nonprofits contracted to provide up to 200 service dogs for veterans, who would be compared against a control group that did not receive dogs.

The VA cut off two of the three dog vendors following biting incidents involving participants’ children. Only 17 dogs had been placed with veterans when the final contract was terminated in August 2012 amid allegations of lax veterinary care and placement of dogs “with known aggressive behavior,” according to VA records.

Meanwhile, questions have arisen about how the dogs that have been placed are being trained, and whether the tasks they are learning to perform benefit a veteran with PTSD or only reinforce their paranoia, according to the Associated Press.

Specifically, the dogs are being trained to do things like sweeping the perimeter of a room before a veteran enters, or protecting the veteran by “blocking.”

“Isn’t that saying that al-Qaida could be behind the shower curtain? That’s supporting paranoid, pathological thinking,” said Meg Daley Olmert, chief research adviser for Warrior Canine Connection and author of a book on how contact with a dog can create a sense of well-being.

Warrior Canine Connection, a Maryland-based nonprofit that uses veterans to train service dogs for other veterans, believes the dogs should be trained to pick up on cues from PTSD sufferers and then provide the appropriate support, such as learning to wake someone up during a nightmare or detecting when a veteran is anxious, and interacting in a way that helps calm him.

ptsdThe VA’s training protocol “reinforces the cognitive distortions that accompany PTSD,” said Robert Koffman, a retired Navy psychiatrist and chief medical officer for the organization.

Between the questionable training protocol, all the studies delays (only about 40 dogs have been placed with veterans), and the VA’s ongoing contention that the benefits for service dogs for PTSD sufferers has not been proven, some wonder how objective the study is going to be.

Not everyone is willing to wait for the study to run its course.

U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis recently introduced a bill that would take $10 million from the VA’s budget to immediately begin pairing service dogs with post-9/11 veterans for whom traditional PTSD treatments hadn’t worked.

At a hearing before a Congressional committee last week, Dr. Michael Fallon, Chief Veterinary Medical officer Fallon, repeated that “the benefits of service dogs in assisting people with mental health diagnoses have not been established in scientific literature.”

But Rory Diamond, the executive director of K9s for Warriors, told the committee that research already shows veterans with PTSD receive extraordinary benefits from service dogs, including allowing them to elminate their use of medications, handle anxiety better, and reduce suicidal thoughts, nightmares, and night terrors.

“There are thousands of veteran suicides that could have been prevented if they would have had access to a service dog,” Diamond told Congress.

(Photo: Army veteran Joe Aguirre with his service dog Munger; by Pablo Martinez Monsivais / Associated Press)

TJ Maxx manager asks Boston Marathon bomb survivor to remove her service dog

sydney

A 19-year-old survivor of the Boston Marathon bombing was told her service dog was not allowed to walk the aisles of a TJ Maxx in New Hampshire.

Sydney Corcoran says she was shopping at the store in Nashua when a store manager said her service dog needed to be placed in a store-supplied “carriage” or leave the store.

Corcoran suffered shrapnel wounds in the bombing and her mother, Celeste, lost both legs. Sydney Corcoran got Koda, her service dog, to help her deal with post-trauamatic stress disorder.

“He’s crucial to my everyday life now,” she told WCVB.

Last Thursday, Koda was wearing his service dog vest when a manager approached and said, “If you want to keep your dog in the store, you have to put him in the carriage.” Sydney said she informed the manager that Koda is a service dog and that he wouldn’t be able to fit comfortably in the carriage. The manager, she said, told her the carriage was a new policy, and that she was required to comply.

celesteSydney left the store and called her mother, who, when she went to the store in person, received an apology.

“She said, ‘I’m sorry.’ And I said, ‘That’s not good enough. You should have known,'” Celeste said. “You just made someone with an emotional disorder so much worse.”

She added, “There are so many people with invisible, silent injuries — and the public needs to be aware that their service animals are sometimes their lifeline.”

TJ Maxx said in a statement: “We are taking this customer matter very seriously. Customers with disabilities who are accompanied by their service animals are welcome in our stores at any time.

“We have looked into the particulars regarding this customer’s experience and deeply regret that our procedures were not appropriately followed in this instance. We are taking actions which we believe are appropriate, including working with our stores to reinforce the acceptance of service animals.”

(Photos: Top, Sydney and Celeste Corcoran with Koda, WCVB; bottom, Celeste and Sydney in this year’s Boston Marathon, Reuters)

Darling won’t you ease my worried mind


Layla — a dog most appropriately named for this particular story — has become the subject of a custody battle in Pittsburgh.

A pit bull mix, she served as an unofficial helper to her owner, a veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder. But when he moved to a new apartment, Layla, lacking documentation as a service dog, wasn’t allowed to live there.

Tim McGill began working to get Layla certified, and in the meantime asked some friends to look after his 3-year-old dog.

Now McGill has gotten the certification, but he can’t get his dog back.

McGill served in the Army in South Korea and Iraq and left the service with a brain injury, anxiety and flashbacks, KDKA in Pittsburgh reports.

A doctor recommended a dog, and — though Layla wasn’t a certified service dog — having her by his side helped, said McGill, a tattoo artist.

McGill says he moved to a Lawrenceville apartment to go to the Art Institute, but that, without any documentation that Layla was a service dog, she wasn’t permitted to live there.

So he asked a friend, Laura Stratemier, to watch over Layla until he could get her certified. In exchange, he offered to repay her with free tattoos for both her and her husband.

Stratemier admits she was only supposed to have Layla for two weeks, but said that as time went by — six months worth of it — she realized the dog was better off with her.

By the time the certification papers for the dog came through McGill, Stratemier was unwilling to give Layla back.

KDKA reports that local animal control officials are looking into the dispute.