Canines Opening Hearts and Doors for Veterans

Photo Source:  USMC
Photo Source: USMC

A lack of shelter, warmth, and safety.  No relief from oppressive heat or bone-numbing cold.  Shortages of food and water.  Months on end without seeing family or loved ones.  Surviving the most horrendous days and nights imaginable.  Watching brothers-in-arms fall on the battlefield.  This has been the hell on Earth that has been endured for countless soldiers throughout the generations.

Most of us have never been to war or in a combat zone.  We have never had to worry about being blown up by a roadside bomb.  Most of us have never had to watch friends die right next to us.  We don’t know what it’s like to experience that kind of fear.

But many of our nation’s veterans have known all these things, and more.

These men and women have served our country under these very conditions, and are now trying to reintegrate back into what we know as a normal society.  But many of them are still struggling with another kind of war that’s taking place inside of them.  The United States Department of Veterans Affairs reports that a veteran commits suicide every 65 minutes.  Another study has shown a significant correlation between suicide attempts by veterans and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  An alarming 755,200 veterans have been diagnosed with and suffer from PTSD, and 184 new cases are diagnosed every day.  Countless more will remain unknown and untreated.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and brain injury (PTSD/TBI) are conditions many veterans acquire during their service protecting our country. These lifelong, unseeable injuries destroy veterans’ ability to function in a family or in society. It affects as many as 20%, of returning veterans and is strongly associated with a risk of addiction and suicide. There is no consensus model for correct treatment. Veterans often end up on large regimens of drugs with addictive potential and/or serious side effects.

The V.A. estimates that 400,000 former soldiers are currently being treated for PTSD, with the numbers climbing daily.  Divorce rates, substance abuse problems and unemployment among veterans with PTSD well exceed those rates within the general population.  Suicide rates are off the map, with 32 to 39 attempts daily (with about half as many succeeding).  What’s happening is tragic and may be completely preventable.

Thanks to incredible organizations that are pairing canines with soldiers, our country’s wounded warriors are learning to acclimate back into society more successfully.  Canine companions are changing their guardian’s lives in ways that few could have ever imagined.

This post is dedicated to the brave men and women that are so desperately trying to survive their mental and physical wounds of war.  Their struggles have been unimaginable, but many of them are winning the internal and physical battle because of a devoted canine companion.

Dogs are Replacing Drugs in the Treatment of PTSD.

According to medical professionals, as well as organizations that train service dogs for veterans with PTSD, veterans paired with service dogs always show improvement. Suicide rates nearly disappear. Divorce and substance abuse decline.

The number of pharmaceuticals prescribed for PTSD patients is off the charts these days, but veterans who are able to receive a trained service dog, are very fortunate; their prescriptions decrease.

Here are a few organizations that pair wounded warriors with trained service dogs to help them heal:

Paws for Purple Hearts

Northwest Battle Buddies

Freedom Dogs: Heroes for our heroes

Veterans K-9 Solutions

Paws for Patriots

Vets Helping Heroes

Below are just a few stories from veterans that have been healed from a little help from a canine friend:

Robert Soliz, a 31 year young former Army Specialist was discharged from the Army in 2005 after serving in a heavy artillery quick-reaction force in South Baghdad. Fear, anxiety, depression and substance abuse took over his life and he began to suffer from PTSD. He became isolated from his family. He explains, “I couldn’t show affection, couldn’t hug my kids” …. “Going to the movies was the worst: the crowds, the dark, the whispering. I would constantly be scanning for who was going to come stab me from behind”. Training with an appointed service dog is the treatment that Robert credits for saving his life.

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Ray Ganiche, a Vietnam Army veteran, was diagnosed with PTSD. He was eventually paired with a service dog. Not long after the two of them become companions, his nightmares and night sweats disappeared. Dazzle, his canine companion wakes Ray as his nightmares begin, and now Ray can finally sleep soundly through the night. Since Dazzle has been in his life, he requires far fewer meds than before she became his canine companion.

paw print

Jarrett Gimbl served as a Marine in Afghanistan and Iraq. He was honorably discharged after suffering a traumatic brain injury (TBI) in combat. After six years of serving his country he was severely depressed and suicidal.  Jarrett swears that without his dog, he would be dead.  The yellow Labrador/hound mix rarely leaves the former Marine’s side.

paw print

Captain Luis Carlos Montalvan, an Army intelligence officer who served in Iraq, was injured in the line of duty. Today, he walks with a cane and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. But Luis explains that Tuesday, a Golden Retriever service dog, helped him to shift out of unemployment and the fear of going outside to a new life. He is now the author of “Until Tuesday: A Wounded Warrior and the Golden Retriever Who Saved Him“. You can watch their story here.

former Army Captain and decorated war Veteran, Luis Carlos Montalván, and his partner Tuesday, a Golden Retriever
Former Army Captain and decorated war Veteran, Luis Carlos Montalván, and his partner Tuesday, a Golden Retriever

It’s amazing stuff. Tuesday can anticipate and fend off panic attacks. He senses my breathing patterns and perspiration and then nuzzles me to calm me.  He lets me know when it’s time for my medication, and won’t allow me not to take it.  And he’ll wake me up if I am having a nightmare. ~ Former Army Captain and decorated war Veteran, Luis Carlos Montalván

Desert Storm veteran Shawn Brooks, of Molalla, Ore., hugs his dog Bella before they test for a service-dog certification at Man's Best Friend kennel in Battle Ground. Brooks suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. (Photo by Zachary Kaufman)
Desert Storm veteran hugs his canine companion Bella before they prepare for their service dog certification.  Shawn is coping with post-traumatic stress disorder.  (Photo credit: Zachary Kaufman)

If I have a headache, he actually puts his head on my head.  If I’m losing my balance, he leans on that leg. He knows everything. ~ Jarrett Gimbl, former U.S. Marine

Gunny cuddles his Marine guardian when he senses that he is falling into depression, and also when his chronic headaches kick in.
Gunny cuddles his Marine guardian when he senses that he is falling into depression, and also when his chronic headaches kick in. (Photo Credit: Marine, Jarrett Gimbl)

If it wasn’t for Gunny, I wouldn’t be here. ~ Jarrett Gimbl, former U.S. Marine

Certified Northwest Battle Buddies Dogs walking with their Veteran guardians in the Veteran's Day Parade.   Photo by Waz-Mix Pix
Certified Northwest Battle Buddies Dogs walking with their Veteran guardians in the Veteran’s Day Parade.  (Photo credit: Waz-Mix Pix)

 My life is slowly coming back to me. I can now can go to the movies without panicking—and I can hug and kiss my two kids. ~ Robert Soliz, former Army Specialist

Robert Soliz is a former Army Specialist participating in Paws for Purple Hearts. Another group that pairs veterans with PTSD  (Photo Credit: Joseph Matthews, Veterans Affairs)
Robert Soliz is a former Army Specialist participating in Paws for Purple Hearts. Another group that pairs veterans with PTSD (Photo Credit: Joseph Matthews, Veterans Affairs)

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A U.S. Marine in the Freedom DOgs program with his "Partner for Life"
A U.S. Marine in the Freedom Dogs program with his “Partner for Life”  (Photo Credit: Freedom Dogs)

She is my “Battle Buddy”, unlike any other.  We call them “Rescue Dogs”, but I have to ask, who is really “RESCUING” who?  We now do everything by eye contact, and hand gesture commands.  Chloe has brought back some of the life, feeling, and hope that I left behind in the war.

~ Dan Sauer , Former Marine Sergeant

Recognition, Retirement, Care and Adoption of Military Working Dogs

This post is also dedicated to the dogs who come home from war with just as many physical and emotional wounds as their people.

President Obama signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act this January. The act declares that military working dogs of all breeds will no longer be classified as “military equipment” to be left behind in foreign lands. These dogs will now be brought back to the U.S., evaluated, retrained and re-homed if necessary.

Until now, these impeccably trained, brave veterans were either abandoned overseas, or euthanized at the end of a tour of duty. The new Act deems them “military veterans.” This is a huge step, not only for these dogs and their handlers, but towards obliterating the laws that declare animals to be property, rather than living creatures with personal rights.  Details are on page 7 of the National Defense Authorization Act:

Recognition, Retirement, Care and Adoption of Military Working Dogs

I know few things as beautiful as the heart of a devoted dog.


Famous Seafaring Felines


When most people think of service animals, usually dogs come to mind. Cats may be prone to languidly lounging in the sun, but seldom seem eager to lend a paw.  However, there have been many cats throughout history that proved humans wrong; cats are capable of working side by side with man!

The long and well documented history of cats serving on ships counters the lazy bones kitty stereotype. The bond between cats and sailors has been a strong one throughout history — whether the relationship was created for companionship or simply mousing duties.  Ship’s cats have been employed on trading, exploration, and naval ships going back to ancient times when Egyptians took cats on Nile boats to catch birds in riverbank thickets.  When cats were brought aboard trading ships, the species began to spread throughout the world.  Phoenician cargo ships are thought to have brought the first domesticated cats to Europe around 900 BC.

Eventually cats’ main job at sea was in the position of pest control; rats and mice onboard are a serious threat to ropes, woodwork, food, and grain cargo — not to mention rodents’ roles as carriers of disease.  Cats also offered companionship to sailors.  We now understand that there is a reason animals are used for therapy.  And cats filled this important role well during lengthy stints away from land.

Seven Famous Seafaring Felines

A ship's cat on the Royal Australian Navy's HMAS Encounter, 1914-1918
A ship’s cat on the Royal Australian Navy’s HMAS Encounter, 1914-1918

Blackie (also known as Churchill)

The mostly black Blackie was the ship cat for HMS Prince of Wales, a King George V-class battleship of the Royal Navy.  The ship was involved in several important actions during World War II, including the battle of Denmark Strait against the Bismarck, escorting convoys in the Mediterranean, and her final action and sinking in the Pacific in 1941.  Blackie achieved celebrity status after Prince of Wales brought Prime Minister Winston Churchill across the Atlantic to Newfoundland for a clandestine meeting for several days with Franklin D. Roosevelt.  The result of their secret summit on the ship resulted in the signing of the Atlantic Charter. As Churchill prepared to disembark the Prince of Wales, Blackie swooped in for a cuddle, Churchill stooped down for a good-bye rub, cameras clicked, and the perfect politician-feline photo opportunity was captured … and gobbled up by the world media.  In honor of the success of the visit, Blackie was renamed Churchill.


Convoy was the beloved cat aboard HMS Hermione — and was named for the multiple times he accompanied the ship on convoy escort duties.  Convoy was registered in the ship’s book and was given a full kit, including a wee hammock to sleep in.  He stayed on the ship to the end and was lost along with 87 of his crewmates when the Hermione was torpedoed and sunk in 1942.

Unsinkable Sam

The most famous mascot of the British Royal Navy, Unsinkable Sam, previously known as Oscar, was the ship’s cat aboard the German battleship Bismarck. When the ship was sunk in 1941, only 116 out of a crew of more than 2,200 survived — 117 if you include Sam.  Sam was picked up by the destroyer HMS Cossack, which was in turn torpedoed and sunk a few months later,

Here is Bilgewater, the mascot of the Coast Guard Academy, circa 1944.  He's modeling the new wartime grey cadet uniform.
Here is Bilgewater, the mascot of the Coast Guard Academy, circa 1944. He’s modeling the new wartime grey cadet uniform.

killing 159 of her crew.  Again, Sam survived!!  Sam then became the ship’s cat of HMS Ark Royal … which was torpedoed and sunk in November of that year.  Sam was rescued once again, but after that incident, it was decided that it was time for Sam’s sailorship to come to an end.  Unsinkable Sam was given a new job as mouser-in-residence at the governor general of Gibraltar’s office.  He eventually returned to the U.K. and lived out his years at the Home for Sailors.










Another WWII cat who became the darling of the ship’s crew, Peebles was the master cat aboard HMS Western Isles.  Peebles was said to be an extraordinarily kitty and had a number of tricks he enjoyed performing, such as shaking hands and jumping through hoops.  In the images, you can see Peebles leaping through the arms of Lt. Commander R H Palmer OBE, RNVR on board HMS Western Isles.


Brave, brave Simon.  The celebrated ship’s cat of HMS Amethyst, Simon was aboard the ship during the Yangtze Incident in 1949 and was wounded in the bombardment that killed 25 crewmembers, including the commanding officer.  Simon recovered and resumed his rat-hunting duties, as well as keeping up the crew’s morale. He was appointed to the rank of able seacat. “Simon’s company and expertise as a rat-catcher

Crewmen on the deck of the USS Olympia using a mirror to play with their cat in 1898.

were invaluable during the months we were held captive,” said Commander Stuart Hett. “During a terrifying time, he helped boost the morale of many young sailors, some of whom had seen their friends killed.  Simon is still remembered with great affection.”

When Simon later died of an infection, tributes poured in and his obituary appeared in The Times. He was posthumously awarded the Dickin Medal for bravery and was buried with full naval honors.


Tiddles was the beloved mouser on a number of Royal Navy aircraft carriers.  He was born on HMS Argus, and later joined HMS Victorious.  He favored the after capstan, where he would play with the bell-rope.  He eventually traveled more than 30,000 miles during his time in service!

Mrs. Chippy

Mrs. Chippy, what a dame.  Well, a tom, actually.  The tiger-striped tabby was taken on board the ill-fated Endurance by Harry McNish, the carpenter nicknamed “Chippy,” where she would explore the Arctic expanse with McNish, Sir Ernest Shackleton and the rest of the crew.  Originally thought to be a female, a month after the ship set sail for Antarctica it was discovered that Mrs. Chippy was actually a male, but the name had stuck. Apparently, Mrs Chippy followed McNeish around like a jealous wife, and was thus named accordingly.

Mrs. Chippy was a handsome, intelligent, affectionate cat, and a rodent-catcher of the first order, garnering the cat a loyal following of admirers among the crew. Sadly, after the ice finally consumed the ship, Shackleton decided that Mrs. Chippy and a number of the more than 70 sled dogs had to be put down. Conditions were extreme and supplies were dangerously limited. The crew took the news very badly.   In 2004, a life-size bronze statue of Mrs. Chippy was placed on the grave of McNish by the New Zealand Antarctic Society in recognition of his efforts on the expedition.

A Few Images of the Most Celebrated Cats Who Served at Sea:

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“The smallest feline is a masterpiece.” ― Leonardo da Vinci

cats on the sea
“I’ll be in my bunk.” The cats of the USS Mississippi climb ladders to enter their hammock, ca 1925. The Mississippi was involved in several fierce battles in the Pacific during World War Two and was hit by kamikazes twice. It survived to be among the ships in Tokyo Bay that witnessed Japan’s surrender.


US Naval Institute

photos courtesy of Wikimedia Commons & The US Naval Institute.

National Hug Your Hound Day!

“Petting, scratching, and cuddling a dog could be as soothing to the mind and heart as deep meditation and almost as good for the soul as prayer.” ― Dean Koontz, False Memory

Did you know that there is a national day to hug your hound?   Well today is the day!

However, if you live with a beloved companion dog, you don’t need a national holiday to remind you how amazing their hugs and cuddles can be, but some days it’s great to be reminded of how much we need it. 

soldier dogs and soldiers veterans

National Hug Your Hound Day is celebrated annually on September 8th.  Although today is an unofficial national holiday, it was created by Ami Moore, author and Canine Behaviorist, for a very specific reason.   Ami wants to make America more “pup friendly”, as it is in Europe and other areas around the globe.  Her goal is to see companion dogs accepted in more public places, such as taxis, malls and restaurants.  She also hopes that today will help dog guardians to appreciate the companionship our dogs give us, and the value of it, both emotionally and physically.

therapy dogs healing pets

National Hug Your Hound Day is not only a day dedicated to recognizing the value of our canine companions, but it’s an opportunity to truly observe your dog from their point of view.  As you celebrate and honor your furry friend and family member today, take a moment to spend a little extra time with your canine companion.  Make a point to connect with them.  By making the effort we can learn to see into their environment and their everyday life.  We can learn to get on their level and make sure their home environment is comforting, inviting, and safe.

Saying Goodbye: My brother Jason giving Hocus Pocus a huge Uncle hug before he left for China
Saying Goodbye: My brother Jason giving Hocus Pocus a huge Uncle Jason hug before he left for China this year

I’d like to leave you with a slide show of a few of my favorite images of animals hugging hounds

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