Pets for vets
7 Days, 7 Dogs, 7 Veterans pairs veterans suffering PTSD with therapy dogs.
About 30 percent of U.S. troops arriving home from Iraq and Afghanistan display symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, according to a 2012 Department of Veterans Affairs study. Traditional methods for coping with the terrifying flashbacks, severe depression, emotional numbness and debilitating anxiety that come with PTSD usually include pharmaceuticals and counseling. But another technique has been getting attention over the last couple of years: pairing psychologically wounded warriors with therapy dogs.
“Establishing a relationship with a dog gives vets with PTSD a sense of trust and comfort,” says Toriano Sanzone. A dog trainer for the past ten years, the 38-year-old North Lawndale resident heads up 7 Days, 7 Dogs, 7 Veterans, a free weeklong class to teach veterans to turn canines that would otherwise be on Animal Care and Control’s euthanasia list into therapy dogs. At the end of the week, the vets can adopt the pups, which have exceptionally calm and affectionate temperaments. “A very intuitive therapy dog is going to think, I’m going to snuggle against you when I sense you’re stressed,” says Sanzone, whose father and grandfather were in the military.
To the younger generation of veterans Sanzone meets in the training sessions, VA hospitals can seem like “a place where the crazy Vietnam vet goes, where your grandpa, the old Korean vet, goes,” he says. “But when these vets are sitting there stroking a dog, it’s so magical because you start to see them open up and disclose their trauma. That’s when they can start processing what they’ve been through and the healing can begin.”
The next 7 Days, 7 Dogs, 7 Veterans begins Saturday 2 at 10am at Sanzone Dog Training (813 W Cermak Rd, 312-933-1528). Free, $40 for civilians.