by Kiley Swopes
Minot Air Force Base Public Affairs
11/22/2012 – MINOT AIR FORCE BASE, N.D. (AFNS) — For some servicemembers, it’s very hard to imagine that someone really knows and understands what they are going through when facing PSTD.
Imagine a pet trained to understand the side effects that come with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Imagine a pet trained to understand your symptoms to aid a path to recovery.
One such pet resides at Minot Air Force Base and is helping a member of Team Minot every day.
Meet Major, an adopted Chihuahua and trained PTSD service dog, who meets the needs of Tech. Sgt. Barbara Mendiola, 5th Force Support Squadron lodging supervisor.
PTSD is an anxiety disorder that can occur after one has seen or experiences a traumatic event that involved a threat of injury or death to the individual or others.
Mendiola’s PTSD was diagnosed after her return from a deployment to Afghanistan in 2006.
Major is certified through Service Dogs of America. Mendiola became aware of Paws for Veterans through the Wounded Warriors Project.
Paws for Veterans Inc. is a community-based, nonprofit organization that provides service dogs, training, supplies and therapeutic group sessions to Veteran and Active Duty men and women struggling with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Traumatic Brain Injury and Physical Disabilities.
What sets Paws for Veterans apart is that the owner assists in training their own service dog with instruction from a staff of dog trainers. Each dog is trained specifically for their owners needs.
According to the program, having the ability to train your own service dog builds confidence and a sense of accomplishment. This method creates a bond between dog and owner that is unmatched by other methods.
“I adopted Major from the pound and have had him for over a year now,” Mendiola said. “I have trained him to sense my stress, anxiety and depression.”
The program strives to improve not only the lives of service members but also the lives of the dogs that are rescued by placing them in loving homes with service members in need.
“His major function for me is if someone surprises me in my office, he will start to growl to let me know someone is coming,” Mendiola said. “If I get nervous around new people or in crowds, he will initiate play.”
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, PTSD symptoms can be grouped into three categories: re-experiencing, avoidance and hyper-arousal. Symptoms can include flashbacks, nightmares, feeling emotionally numb and being easily startled.
“Being Active Duty means I have to work,” Mendiola said. “I can be more productive if I can be relieved of my PTSD symptoms in some way.”
Major is trained to sense Mendiola’s PTSD symptoms and engage her in positive activity to refocus her attention.
“I’m better than I was before,” Mendiola stated. “I can’t say that I am totally recovered because I still have nightmares, but he makes my life easier.”