Until recently, Israeli soldiers and veterans with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) did not feel their needs were adequately addressed by their government.
In a country where almost everyone serves in the military, there is still a culture where a man is considered weak if he can’t handle emotional stress. All that changed in 2021, when IDF veteran Itzik Saidyan immolated himself to protest the mishandling of soldiers who had “the invisible injury.” This tragic and desperate act suddenly spotlighted an issue that had long been neglected.
Soldiers who experienced the horrors of war during military service were encouraged to come forward and share their experiences, so they could find new ways to cope with upsetting memories and alleviate the frequent nightmares and flashbacks.
The Israel Guide Dog Center began a pilot program in 2017 to train dogs to assist IDF veterans with PTSD. The dogs are trained to recognize when a person is in distress – based on breathing patterns and body language – and respond using techniques designed to interrupt the episode.
First, a PTSD dog will nudge its owner to see if they can be distracted. If that doesn’t work, the dog jumps up and licks the person’s face until they wake up and calm down. Case studies have shown if a person can rely on their dog to wake them from a nightmare or flashback consistently, it dramatically reduces the frequency and intensity of their symptoms.
Not only do dogs offer a distraction, but they also help develop a healthy routine. Their partner can no longer lie in bed and be depressed. They need to get up, let the dog out in the morning, feed and brush the dog, and take the dog on a long walk – so both get exercise. A PTSD dog pushes a person living with PTSD out of bed and into a more productive life.
The IDF evaluated our program and deemed us the best provider of PTSD dogs. They urged us to produce more PTSD dogs– even though our primary mission is to provide guide dogs for blind or visually impaired people. And while we will not deviate from our primary mission, we have agreed to double the number of PTSD Dog Partnerships by 2023.
We are proud of this new program and happy to help IDF heroes who need a four-legged best friend to cope with the trauma and torment of their military service—and restore their peace of mind and ability to function.