Military treats service dogs for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Ft. Carson soldier works to help his dog heal

FORT CARSON, Colo. - In combat, four-legged soldiers sniff out bombs, clear buildings and protect troops. Along the way, they can suffer mentally, just like their handlers.

Since PTSD became an official diagnosis three years ago, military veterinarian Mjr. Andrew McGraw has treated half-a-dozen dogs with the condition.

"There is typically a history of some concussive event, so that could be an explosion, it could be a crash," said McGraw.

"When you go to combat with these guys and see them save your life, save other people's lives, there's just nothing like it. I can't even put it into words," said Sgt. Jon Silvey, a dog handler based at Fort Carson.

Sgt. Silvey's K9, Turbo, was only a few feet away when an IED blew up in Afghanistan and a gunfight erupted. Afterwards, the dog who had never been fazed by loud noises was suddenly skittish.

"I can remember on some of the outposts we were at, they had artillery going off, and as soon as he heard artillery, he wanted to get in his kennel crate, and that's the only place he wanted to be." said Silvey.

PTSD symptoms can vary from dog to dog, but there's always a change in behavior. Often the highly-trained animals will no longer do their jobs, which could be dangerous if lives are on the line.

"There are some short-term drugs that may help," said McGraw.

Veterinarians prescribe a combination of anti-anxiety medication and de-sensitization training, but McGraw said there is still much to learn about the diagnosis in dogs.

"Because the dog can't sit down and tell you about a nightmare he had or what it is he is feeling when he is unable to perform his job," said McGraw.

McGraw said when the symptoms are caught early, about half of dogs diagnosed with PTSD are eventually able to return to duty.

Silvey is doing everything he can to make sure Turbo is in that half.

In one exercise, he tells Turbo to stay and fires a gun, then praises the dog if he obeys. It's clear the K9 is still uncomfortable with the noise, and he may always be, but after months of training, he no longer runs away.
The dog is now off anti-anxiety drugs and cleared for duty.

"I have 100 percent faith in him to do his job, and we're ready to go back whenever," said Silvey.

They are a team -- both  serving their country, but it's more than that. Silvey said Turbo has been there for him, and it's his duty to return the favor.

"It just so happens we're partners as well," said Silvey. "So it meant more than helping another soldier out. It was the bond between us, I just want to see him better."

The dogs who don't respond well to treatment are screened and adopted or used as law enforcement K9s.

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