Organizations pair dogs with PTSD victims

In an effort to aid veterans with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), the West Virginia Service Dog Support Group (WVSDSG); Hearts of Gold, a Morgantown non-profit which trains the dogs and conducts service dog education and research, as well as community players, including WVU students, are picking up the slack.

“Vets have been waiting years for VA approval of PTSD dogs and, with 22 vets a day committing suicide, and these dogs proven to save them, we’re not going to wait,” Anastasia Hilvers, co-founder of WVSDSG, told The Dominion Post.

Thanks to Hearts of Gold, the vets will receive their canine helpers free of charge, said Hilvers. Service dogs for PTSD, which usually take about two years of specified training, typically cost between $25,000 and $40,000.

The dogs at the class ranged from a 11-pound Shih Tzu named Annabelle to a 150-pound English Mastiff named Mon Equi. Both dogs are owned and handled by disabled veterans.

“Annabelle will wake me up when I have bad dreams,” said Richard Ogden, a combat veteran with PTSD. “Anytime I’m stressing out or getting made, she will jump on me, lick me, and tells me to calm down.”

Miranda Wimmer, a WVU junior studying psychology, and holding Raven, a black, 16-month German Shephard, said she originally got involved because she needed a service dog for herself.Hilvers’ organization and Hearts of Gold hold trainer and handler classes where vets and volunteers can learn to become certified handlers. The goal is to then match up vets, who go through additional customized training, with service dogs. The dogs typically go to disabled persons who live in an area served by the Clarksburg VA. Most of the trainers and handlers are volunteer WVU students studying animal sciences.

The groups’ first course was held at Cummins Crosspoint, a Fairmont business that sells and services Cummins engines and parts, which donated the space.

On Thursday, November 19, the teacher was Lindsay Parenti, Hearts of Gold director of program operations and an instructor of dog behavior classes at WVU, who taught her students how to properly groom their dogs.


©2015 The Dominion Post (Morgantown, W.Va.)
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