Washington Post (card)
In the final leg of my USA visit I headed to Washington DC. I had left my heart in San Francisco in the shape of ‘Lance’ the Bergin University ‘wonder dog’, but I had also lost my passport there as well!
This meant I had to stay in the capital city overnight to visit the British Consulate and get an emergency passport so I could complete my trip. Nicola from the Consulate (an ex copper) was extremely helpful and happened to be a Golden Retriever owner, so even that unscheduled stop was interesting and pleasant!
This gave me the opportunity to go to the National Police Memorial, where thousands of police from all over the USA had come to show support for the families of the fallen. There were delegations from all over the world and I met some British Bobbies there too. We held a candlelight vigil and it was extremely moving to hear individual tales of how those that dedicated themselves to putting themselves in ‘harms way to protect others’ had lost their lives and the impact their service had on their families. It felt like I was surrounded by family and in some ways I think I was.
I went on to the Warrior Canine Connection where I met Rick Yount. Rick was the driving force behind convincing Congress to get the VA (Veterans Affairs) to begin a 7 million dollar study into the therapeutic benefits of service dogs for those with PTSD and TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury). He told me about how the programme started and his first therapy dog Gabe who went on to help and change many lives.
This remarkable organisation works closely with the Walter Reed Military hospital and the National Intrepid Centre of Excellence to involve PTSD veterans in the training of dogs for their comrades with mobility issues as a result of their service. It is an opportunity to support their ‘buddies’ and while doing so they get the ‘oxytocin’ that passes to and from dogs as they interact with us. They also, address their own fears and anxieties, because if you are teaching a dog that the world is a safe place, you are inadvertently learning that lesson yourself! Veterans with PTSD are motivated to give back, they will often overcome their fear of leaving the safety of their home to help others, this, and the power of working with assistance dogs is a powerful tool to lessen the burden of this illness.
I was warmly welcomed into the ‘fold’ at WCC and met many of the Board of Directors and volunteers. It was fascinating to see how as a result of the great work undertaken by the team the programme was now being tested at the highest level as we attempt to find out just why dogs are so effective at lowering anxiety and stress. This may open other possibilities for animal-assisted interventions and I hope it will lead to an increased respect for animals and their significance to us humans.
Warrior Canine Connections have a ‘Puppy Cam’ and it is getting millions of views! I didn’t miss the opportunity to ‘snuggle’ with these little beauties and get my dose of oxytocin!
One of the most wonderful things about my visit is the openness and warmth I have been met with. Every organisation has been willing to share their knowledge and their experiences so that more can be done to help our veterans and those in the emergency services. Rick firmly believes in disseminating the knowledge and has pioneered so much research. I am extremely grateful to him and his team for all the help I received and support that was shown, they really are leading the way with the clinical studies that may lead to more vital government funding for the use of service dogs to help our veterans. Thank you Rick, we will be following the studies with a great deal of interest!