ReCHAI Veterans and Shelter Dogs Initiative

veteran and dog

by Levi Newman on February 17, 2011

Dr. Rebecca Johnson, Director for the Research Center for Human Animal Interaction at the University of Missouri is pioneering a program that aims to give veterans, especially those who suffer from PTSD a focused avenue toward better mental health.

Over the duration of the study, ReCHAI will track PTSD symptom levels, physical health, substance use, employment, physical activity outside of the study, and social and family support and interaction.  The expectations are to see veterans gain improvements in their PTSD, enjoy healthy levels of physical activity, and increased family functioning.  Also, for the dogs the veterans are working with, it is expected that they will have higher adoption rates and fewer returns to the shelter after adoption.

The study is given in three phases, and takes veterans can participate at either of two locations, Columbia or Springfield, Missouri.  Of course participation is by voluntary application to the program, and there is no requirement to continue from one phase to the next. During the first phase, which is 24 weeks long, veterans are paired with dogs from the Central and Southwest Missouri Human Societies and enter into a dog walking and obedience training program.

This first phase has room for 25 veterans at each location.  The veterans and their dogs meet twice per week.  Additionally, the families of the veterans are encouraged to participate in the program, as opportunities for family interaction are included as part of the program.  While the dogs have already been screened for any behavior problems that would prevent them from participating, they have much to learn.  The veterans teach them vital interaction skills that transform the dogs into pets much more likely to be adopted from the shelter, giving the dogs an increased chance for a better life and a family to love them.

For the second phase, 10 of the previous 50 veterans will become adoption mentors with the people who adopt new shelter dogs.  For six months they will make monthly calls, to help the new dog owners with any needed information or referrals to professionals for any serious issues that may arise.

The third phase also involves 10 of the previous 50 veterans.  These are 10 veterans who show a special aptitude and affinity for dog training.  These veterans will begin training shelter dogs as PTSD Service Dogs for other veterans who are in need of these types of Service Dogs.

Veteran participants will receive up to $500 for their participation in the study.

Over the duration of the study, ReCHAI will track PTSD symptom levels, physical health, substance use, employment, physical activity outside of the study, and social and family support and interaction.  The expectations are to see veterans gain improvements in their PTSD, enjoy healthy levels of physical activity, and increased family functioning.  Also, for the dogs the veterans are working with, it is expected that they will have higher adoption rates and fewer returns to the shelter after adoption.

Veterans who wish to participate in this study need only to contact Dr. Johnson’s Office:  Phone 573-882-2266, or email rajohnson@missouri.edu.

More information about ReCHAI can be found at the center’s website.

Photo thanks to puck90 under creative common license on Flickr.

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