Missouri study pairs military veterans with shelter dogs to benefit both

Missouri study pairs military veterans with shelter dogs to benefit both

Sep 01, 2011

COLUMBIA, MO. — It's believed that 50 percent of the 2 million U.S. military personnel who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan experience combat-related psychological problems ranging from substance abuse to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

A University of Missouri veterinary professor hopes a study pairing those veterans with shelter dogs will help both groups.

The Central Missouri Humane Society is supplying the dogs involved in the study, which is led by Rebecca Johnson, director of the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine's Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction (ReCHAI) and associate professor for the MU Sinclair School of Nursing and College of Veterinary Medicine.

"This study benefits both ends of the leash, because we know that interaction with animals relieves stress and lessens symptoms of depression and anxiety," says Johnson. "Not only will veterans help dogs exercise and receive necessary training, but the dogs will potentially provide stress relief for the veterans."

The three-part study, started in early 2011, will be conducted over a two-year period. Veterans are learning to train dogs in basic obedience in the first phase of the program. In phase two, veterans will mentor families who adopt shelter dogs. In the third phase, the best of the trained dogs will be trained as PTSD service dogs to work with soldiers who need this assistance.

The study is funded by a series of grants from Mars Petcare (the Waltham Foundation, Pedigree Foundation and Banfield Charitable Trust) and the MU Research Board.