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Butch Mazzuca

Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is a serious and potentially debilitating condition that can occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event — a serious accident, a terrorist attack, the sudden death of a loved one, combat, a violent personal assault such as rape, or other life-threatening events.

Consequently it's not unusual for returning service men and women who have been in combat or seen its effects, to have flashbacks, nightmares, or intrusive memories as a result.

Soon after returning from war zones such as Iraq or Afghanistan, many soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines discover they can't quite make the adjustment back to civilian life and encounter difficulties with their close family relationships and friendships.

PTSD manifests itself in various forms. Many returning veterans find they have problems with trust, closeness, communication, and problem solving. PTSD can negatively affect the way a survivor interacts with others, which in turn may affect how others interact with the survivor, developing a circular pattern of reinforcing negative interactions.

Veteran“A Veteran

— whether active duty, discharged, retired or reserve

— is someone who, at some point in time, wrote a blank check made payable to The United States of America, for an amount up to and including their life.”Unknown

Local veteran Jon Damon, a former Navy Machinist Mate Second Class, believes he's come up with a partial solution to assist these afflicted returning service personnel and to help re-integrate them into the community through a program called K9s for Vets.

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K9s For Vets is a 501c3 charitable organization located in Eagle County. Its vision is to pair veterans and rescue dogs, for the betterment of both. The program is designed to allow the veterans to reclaim their lives and return to normalcy while providing animals with a safe and caring environment.

For reasons known only to them, many PTSD afflicted veterans simply don't come forward to acknowledge their disorder. And without professional help most of these veterans' conditions will not improve if they are left to fend for themselves.

It wasn't until veterans with PTSD began providing anecdotal evidence about experiencing relief from their symptoms after engaging with service/companion dogs that attention was drawn to these "alternative treatments." Studies have shown that interaction with these dogs has greatly benefited many veterans who had previously shown little or no improvement in their symptoms. As a result, these veterans have been able to reengage in the lives they knew prior to combat.

Being able to work, return to school and/or socialize became much easier after being paired with a companion dog; additionally, many veterans have been able to reduce or eliminate their medications, some of which induced deleterious side effects.

How it works

K9s for Vets uses a unique screening process to determine the best K9 — veteran match. The process begins when the veteran completes a general application including questions about the type of home the veteran lives in, if there are other animals in the household, how many children the dog will interact with, how active is the veteran, where the rescue dog will be kept, and so on.

Next, the veteran completes a Severity of PTSD screening application, which is reviewed by Dr. Mark Fishbein, PhD., the organization's clinical psychologist. Fishbein uses this information, along with a personality inventory that poses questions about friendships, getting close to others, controlling his or her emotions, degrees of responsibility, etc., in order gather a baseline and a more complete picture of the veteran. This profile is then used to best match the personalities and activity levels of the veterans and canines, almost like some popular internet dating sites.

Once the application process is completed, K9s for Vets will provide mentoring and education for the veterans and their families on the benefits and responsibilities of owning a companion animal, along with a session or two with Mark Coe, dog handler and the K9s For Vets "pack leader."

K9s for Vets also conducts post-placement checks in the home, annual follow-ups and will work with the veteran regarding any needs that result from the placement of the companion animal. In addition, K9s for Vets has fostered relationships with area shelters and their volunteer staff will evaluate the medical and training needs of the K9s before they are placed with the veterans.

You can help

Being a non-profit K9s for Vets relies on individual donations and the organization has several sponsorship programs you can find on their website, http://www.k9s4vets.org. K9s for Vets will also sponsor several "Yappy Hours" in the coming months. These are dog-friendly social hours including door prizes and a summer-long silent auction for people who love dogs, love veterans and love happy hours.

Yappy Hours will be held at the following locations:

The Gypsum Creek Grill, Saturday, 2 — 6 p.m.

• 7 Hermits Brewery in Eagle, May 5, 4 — 8 p.m.

• E-Town in Edwards, June 1, 4 — 8 p.m.

• Beaver Creek Chophouse, July 18, 3 — 7 p.m.

• Bart & Yeti's in Vail, Aug. 4, 4 — 8 p.m.

Our veterans risked their lives for us and now it's time to do our part, hope to see you at one of these events.

Quote of the Day: "A Veteran — whether active duty, discharged, retired or reserve — is someone who, at some point in time, wrote a blank check made payable to The United States of America, for an amount up to and including their life."—Unknown

Butch Mazzuca, of Edwards, writes regularly for the Vail Daily. He can be reached at bmazz68@comcast.net.

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