After transitioning back into civilian life, veterans often face unique challenges.
But when a veteran is depressed, having panic attacks, or suffering from PTSD, there’s a simple remedy that might help: canine companionship.
After all, any dog owner can tell you from firsthand experience that our four-legged friends provide quite the calming influence. You don’t have to take their word for it, though. There’s been plenty of scientific research to back up the claims, too.
Pets can relieve symptoms of depression, lower blood pressure, elevate levels of serotonin and dopamine, and even lower your risk of heart disease. In other words, they make life less stressful, and help their owners stay calm and relaxed.
A Wisconsin Marine is aiming to utilize these positive effects of canine companionship to help other veterans. His name is B.J. Ganem, and he founded Sierra Delta a few years ago. The name comes from the phonetic spelling of the first initials for “service dog.”
Of course, there are plenty of nonprofits that raise money to train guide dogs and service dogs for veterans. In fact, Ganem notes that roughly 1,000 highly trained service dogs are given to veterans each year through these charities — with the dogs costing as much as $65,000.
However, Sierra Delta is a different kind of program.
“We’re trying to get rid of the myth of presenting a veteran with a dog. Instead, a veteran picks a dog and we train them with a focus on rescue dogs because so many are killed every year,” Ganem said.
These dogs aren’t guide dogs or service dogs. Instead, these are companions.
“Most veterans just need a pet,” Ganem pointed out.
And so far, 347 veterans have gotten those pets from Sierra Delta, since Ganem started the nonprofit in 2017.
The idea came to Ganem after he began studying how the service dog industry for veterans worked. It was then that he realized that veterans like himself could benefit from a variety of dogs — including those who are simply well-trained pets.
Sierra Delta pairs veterans and the dogs they choose with trainers in their communities. It helps them learn how to communicate with their pups, and set routines for them and their pets. On top of that, there’s an app with games and challenges, like volunteering at shelters or giving talks about their experiences. It allows them to accumulate points, which they can use to get free gear.
In other words, Sierra Delta is training dogs and veterans.
Unlike other service dog nonprofits, Sierra Delta doesn’t require a doctor’s note or any disability paperwork. They only need proof that the veteran served in the military. It’s open to any veteran, no matter when they served.
For more info on the program, check the official Sierra Delta website.