HEBRON | Charles Sargent has been training dogs in basic obedience skills for years as a member of the Dunes Dog Training Club in Hebron.
But when a member of the club told Sargent that her son had returned from service in Afghanistan and was experiencing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, Sargent started thinking that a canine companion trained to deal with such a disorder may be the way to help local veterans.
“We got to talking how dogs can be really in tune with how people are feeling and can bond with people who are feeling anxiety or anti-social. I found only two places in Indiana that did training for such dogs and so I started researching it and putting the logistics together, and after a year we began training dogs that have been rescued from a shelter,” Sargent says.
Called Pets N Vets, the program uses standards established by the American Kennel Club and provides trained dogs free of charge to veterans in need. Nine veterans from Rensselaer to Chesterton already have been helped in the year the program has been in existence.
“We took our techniques for obedience and use them to do specific things for the veterans. We train the dogs for different issues, how to deal with anger and slow that anger down, anxiety issues and hyper vigilance, and providing rest and physical stability.
"We are training right now for two shut-ins who would not come out of their house. The veterans transfer their emotions to companionship with the dog. Instead of thinking of harming themselves, they think of the dog and caring for the dog,” he says.
Pets N Vets is a nonprofit organization that is run entirely by volunteers. The veterans also are involved in the training and care of their dog.
Sargent says the program has been very successful.
“We have a lot of awesome stories that have come from this," he said. "We have veterans who are more outgoing now and go into therapy at the VA with their dog, or they work with a specific issue with a service dog.
"We get more rewards back from the work we put in and we’re starting to hear from the families about things I never expected. I thought we’d just help the veteran, but it turns out that it just spills over and helps the whole family.”
For more information, visit dunesdogtrainingclub.tripod.com/pets-n-vets-program.html