Dogs create healing space for veterans
After 20 years of government service, Terry Henry battled chronic and debilitating symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, opioid addiction, and multiple suicide attempts. Just when he thought all hope was lost, a Golden Retriever named ADDIE changed everything.
“ADDIE was the first service dog to come in and quite literally save my life, on more than one occasion. ADDIE gave me a purpose to live,” Henry said.
It all started when Henry’s daughter, Kyria, became passionate about training Golden Retrievers as a young child, eventually creating the non-profit paws4people® in 1999. Since that time, the organization has trained and placed over 1,200 assistance dogs.
Accredited by Assistance Dogs International, paws4people® is focused on training psychiatric service dogs for children and veterans battling invisible wounds. Currently, it maintains 450 active client / dog teams. One of the things that sets the organization apart is how it purposefully seeks out the more severe cases.
The team and their dogs work with veterans teaching them how to Control, Regulate, and Mitigate® their symptoms through K9-centric exposure-based Intervention Transfer Training™ utilizing licensed therapists as part of the training team.
In the beginning, Henry was one of those cases. He would gladly help Kyria drive around as she brought her therapeutic dogs to nursing homes and schools, but he was not OK.
“I went down into the hole in the ’90s with depression and anxiety,” he explained.
Henry was open in sharing that he became addicted to opioids and that he attempted suicide on three occasions. Thankfully, Kyria’s business grew to the point where she needed more hands-on help, and Henry found himself training and handling one of the dogs. He shared that although he was training her, ADDIE ended up training him. She was able to alert him and bring him back during episodes of stress and depression — effectively saving his life.
In 2009, they began placing service dogs with veterans. The expansion into this untapped community resulted in the successful rehabilitation of countless veterans and service members. The approach was formally recognized as K9-centric Post-Traumatic Growth® and the concept of ADDIE’S Way was born.
ADDIE’S Way is an 11-acre state-of-the-art facility in Wilmington, North Carolina, that paws4people® believes will transform lives. While still under construction, there are big plans in place for an early summer opening.
The facility will have a commercial kitchen and dormitory-style rooms for clients of the program. Puppies are birthed and trained in the facility’s Puppy Development Center. The puppies play a critical role during the initial phase of the ADDIE’S Way 24-week program, by encouraging clients to reconnect with their emotions. During phase two of the program, clients work with a shelter rescue dog teaching them basic obedience skills so they can be adopted out into the community, thus saving the dog’s life.
In the last phase, clients are paired with their own psychiatric service dog. It is during this phase of extensive training that the client learns how to utilize their psychiatric service dog to Control, Regulate, and Mitigate® their symptom set.
“We go through a matching process to determine which dog responds best to each client. Every person has a unique disposition based on their current symptoms and coping mechanisms, so it is important to let the dogs choose the person they respond best to,” Henry explained.
“Once the connection begins to take effect, the psychiatric service dog becomes an important tool the client learns to work with. We also teach the veteran how to ‘talk’ to their dogs. Often, the dog proves to be more effective than talk therapy alone. We are finding that moral injury connected with the veteran’s PTSD is also being effectively addressed by our program. And of course, veterans who have experienced military sexual trauma are becoming a large percentage of our client base,” Henry continued.
The dogs are placed nation-wide. One of the reasons for establishing the campus is to support those in need far beyond the Carolina borders. Those who receive a psychiatric service dog are involved with paws4people® for life. They are required to re-certify their dog each year and the team will ensure that veterans are using their dogs to continue their path of K9-centric Post-Traumatic Growth®.
Henry wishes that he had a place like ADDIES’ Way that he could have gone to back in the 90s. That is why he has worked so hard and so long to create such a place. Although he still suffers from depression, night terrors, and flashbacks even 30 years later, he’s simultaneously thriving – and that’s exactly what post traumatic growth means.
While paws4people® doesn’t claim to be the cure, it is an effective and extraordinary tool for veterans to use on their journey of post-traumatic growth.
Visit www.paws4people.org to learn more about its programs and resources.