Anyone who has had the privilege to own a dog knows that the consistent presence of a companion animal can be incredibly calming and therapeutic; at least, if said dog is a good boy or girl.
For this reason, specially trained service dogs have recently become an integral part of the recovery process for individuals struggling to function in their daily lives because of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
And though the anecdotal evidence is quite overwhelming – many combat veterans have reported that their service dog restored a will to live after intense depression drove them to thoughts of suicide – researchers have been looking for objective proof that this expensive intervention (each dog/veteran placement costs $20,000-30,000) is effective.
So, a team led by Maggie O’Haire at the Purdue University Center for the Human-Animal Bond stepped in to fill this need. Their paper, published in Psychoneuroendocrinology, examined the physiological and psychological impact of living with a service dog by comparing answers from a mental health survey and levels of the stress hormone cortisol among 73 veterans who had acquired PTSD when serving in the military after the 9/11 attacks. Forty-five of these subjects had a service dog, and the other 28, individuals who were on the waitlist to receive one, served as controls.
“Our previous research suggests that the presence of a service dog reduced clinical PTSD symptoms and improved quality of life,” O’Haire said in a statement. “In this study, we wanted to determine if those beneficial effects also included changes in the physiology of stress.”