Last week I was part of a group that made a presentation from a fundraiser to Honour House in New Westminster. Honour House is an amazing facility housed in a renovated 1930s mansion, which caters to the families of military members or first responders who are here from out of town awaiting medical treatments or surgeries.
At any given time there can be up to 10 residents or more, including children, who stay free of charge while a family member is being treated or in recovery. One of the men there is a young Canadian veteran of the Afghanistan conflict who just had a heart transplant and also suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, (PTSD).
He has a dog named Hammer.
Hammer is a service dog trained to deal with patients with PTSD. PTSD dogs support veterans and children who are daily coping with post-traumatic stress disorder. There are a number of tasks the dogs can be taught to support those with PTSD, including helping with medication reminders, other memory issues such as disorientation, directional challenges, and keeping track of time.
Their purpose is to help PTSD victims gain independence over their condition.
If Hammer senses stress he will lie down on a person’s feet or lean against them and the results are remarkable. The individual will notice a change in attitude. After one of these sessions, the dog will lie down and sleep, almost from exhaustion as if he has run a long distance at top speed.
I was relating this story to a friend and he remarked, “Wouldn’t it be great if we all had a dog like that? I could come home from a rough day, plop down in my big chair and say, Jan can you pass the dog please?” I’m sure a normal family of four would wear out such a dog in no time. Parents have plenty to worry about at home and work, kids have peer pressure, bullying and academic and athletic stressors every day.
Many people are caregivers and are shouldering not only their own worries, but have the needs of a parent or relative to carry as well. Like with Hammer, the tasks can be physically and mentally exhausting. Too often anxiety and frustration enter the picture and our own health begins to suffer.
I have never heard of anyone training a PTSD cat, mostly, I suppose, because comforting is done on their terms. We have people around us like that, too.
In today’s society we are taught to go, go, go, to work hard to succeed, to stay connected and never shut off. But that’s not how our bodies were designed to operate. We need time to regenerate because if we don’t shut the system down for maintenance, it will shut down all by itself. Then the caregiver becomes the patient.
The soldier points out that while Hammer is looking after him, he has to ensure the dog’s needs are met as well.
“We have learned to rely on each other, we need each other, and there is no gain in isolation.”
Who is your Hammer? Who sits down with you quietly and just listens and absorbs and maybe never says a thing, but stays close by when the going gets tough?
Or are you the Hammer? Do you sense when something is wrong but are reluctant to get involved? Sometimes, all it takes is to say, “I’m here if you need me.”
At least that’s what McGregor says.