Individuals with strong and rewarding social connections are happier, have fewer health problems and live longer than those who don’t. It can be tough for our heroes to make these important connections but animal companions motivate their owners to rejoin society and transition back into civilian life. Just by going on daily walks, Veterans are more likely to meet and engage with others thanks to the built-in conversation starter of their new companion.
Pets never judge, instead, offering only unconditional love, support and a feeling of safety. For Veterans, the knowledge that their animal companion is always there for them can help reduce depression, anxiety and nightmares. Pets can even help bring the hero back to the present during a flashback just by moving, barking or nudging with a paw. For the animals, having a routine and a human they trust gives them a sense of belonging and security they may have not had before.
Service dogs not only improve mental well-being, they can actually boost overall health and the hero can do the same for them! When petting an animal, the hormone oxytocin is released into the brain of both the human and the animal, creating a sense of calm, regulating breathing, and lowering blood pressure and pulse rate. Health is further improved through shared physical activity such as walks, hikes, runs and playing games..
Transitioning to civilian life can be extremely difficult for many service men and women who have returned with physical and/or emotional injuries. By some estimates, as many as 20% of returning military & veterans suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Pets may also suffer from traumatic experiences such as abuse, being dumped on the streets or being surrendered to a noisy, frightening shelter. Both are looking for a way to start again and they find that in each other.
Because of their new companion, heroes begin to view themselves the way their pet does. They see their best qualities reflected in their pet’s eyes, which boosts their self-esteem and confidence. Instead of feeling threatened by the outside world, their pet draws them into it and reminds them that life is full of joy and adventure. By observing how their pet appreciates every day and every moment, they learn to do the same. Once a hero opens his or her heart to a companion animal, it paves the way to opening themselves to others.
Above all else, the hero gains a new best friend!