Patriot Dog program brings hope to vets

By By Natalie Stewart / American Press

A program that puts service and therapy dogs in the hands of soldiers coping with post-traumatic stress disorder was presented

at the Louisiana Counselors Association’s annual conference this week.

The Patriot Dog Program is an expansion of New Leash on Life, a program in which dogs are trained by residents at the Juvenile

Detention Center. After the dogs learn basic commands they are matched with soldiers, who adopt them as service dogs.

“A lot of states have Patriot Dog Programs and service dogs for veterans. They all have different concepts though,” said Cindy

Escandell, director of psychological health for the Louisiana National Guard. “Ours here is one of the most unique in the

nation. It’s phenomenal. We have to get the word out about this program.”

Beth Zilbert, People’s Advocate executive director, shared her story of how her therapy dog, Luke, helped her cope with PTSD

and the role Patriot Dogs play in the lives of soldiers and of veterans who live with PTSD.

In 2010, Zilbert was involved in a

serious car accident in which the driver, Shannon Cox, was killed. She

said symptoms she

suffered are similar to those seen by soldiers coming back from

war — flashbacks, nightmares, being easily startled, difficulty

maintaining relationships.

Through Luke, Zilbert saw the importance of therapy and service dogs and how much they can help people diagnosed with PTSD.

“What happened was this dog who was

serving other people at the time instinctively started to serve me in

ways I didn’t see

at first,” she said. “Luke knew what I was thinking about, and I

could tell him what I couldn’t tell anyone else because everyone

around me had gone through so much pain and suffering already.”

Zilbert said Luke also helped her go out into the world when she would have to take him for a walk. She said she knew that

therapy dogs could help returning soldiers in the same way that Luke had helped her.

Josh Droddy, certified dog trainer for Patriot Dogs and a veteran, said his service dog, Rock, helped him through dark times.

He now trains dogs as they go through the program.