Ricochet traded her life jacket for a Santa Jacket, and surfed to town to kick off her 8th annual Surfin’ Santa Paws Howliday Giving Drive in conjunction with Paws’itive Teams Emotional Support Dog program (ESD). She delivered puppy elves, including her new puppy, Encore (Cori) to veterans with PTSD for Operation Socialization.
Ricochet’s Operation Socialization uses the healing power of dogs in the fight against PTSD. It matches veterans who have graduated from Paws’itive Teams ESD program with puppies from her Alma mater, Puppy Prodigies who are training to be emotional support, therapy or service dogs.
Every 65 minutes a veteran with PTSD takes their life by suicide. Through this unique initiative, we are committed to replacing suicidal ideation with a healthy perspective and meaning to life. There is tremendous healing that comes with puppy breath!
The veterans and puppies spent the afternoon socializing with stressed out shoppers who wanted to take a break from standing in long lines to interact with an adorable puppy elf.
One veteran described the afternoon by saying “I was a little nervous about helping these service and therapy dogs in training get socialized in a public setting. I realized how important the socialization is for them, and it didn’t hurt that all the attention was on them… we were transparent. What I didn’t think about was how the puppies would make me feel. Their unconditional love for everyone that walked by, breaking the invisible barriers between people and melting your stress away with those tiny kisses.”
Puppies who do not get adequate socialization tend to be fearful of unfamiliar people, dogs, sounds, environments, etc.
On the other paw, military with PTSD have anxiety in social situations, and often withdraw and isolate themselves.
While it’s typical for veterans with PTSD to feel awkward if approached by people, in this circumstance the encounter is non-threatening because the interaction is joyful and the focus is on the puppy.
Puppies by nature, elicit positive interactions between people. The puppies learn from the veterans, and the veterans have an outlet that reduces loneliness, anxiety and isolation.
As the veterans help the puppies feel safe with the socialization process, they also reap the benefit of the human-animal bond and realize their anxiety levels have decreased.
This initiative enables both the puppies and veterans to experience positive interactions with strangers of all kinds, while feeling more comfortable in social environments.
The Veterans also feel a sense of re-connection to their community, while at the same time they find a new sense of purpose.
This unique concept is a win-win-win because it benefits the puppies by providing an opportunity to meet lots of people for socialization, the veterans whose social anxiety is lessened through the joyful interaction with puppies and the shoppers who get a puppy fix!
Ricochet partnered with Paws’itve Teams for this campaign because she is a certified goal directed therapy dog with their organization. She is also actively involved in their ESD program.
An Emotional support dog provides comfort without having to be trained a specific task like service dogs do. ESD’s do not have public access, but they are allowed in public housing and the cabins of airplanes with a letter from a doctor.
The concept for the ESD program came about because many veterans with PTSD have their own pet dogs who are in tune with their symptoms naturally. Often, the subtle, or not so subtle signs the dog is giving them can be missed.
Once the veterans learn how to read their dog’s body language, they realize the dog is innately hypervigilent. As such, they no longer have to be anxious about potential threats in their environment.
Free classes are held in a safe environment and include dog handling practice as well as lectures on health, safety, first aid, grooming and other essential dog training tools. The classes are led by veterans who also have PTSD, thereby offering a high level of understanding their symptoms and ways dogs can assist in managing agitation, anxiety or depression in the home environment.
A graduate of the program says “There are many tools that help me cope with PTSD… therapy medications and now I have learned dogs. Some nay sayers state that “dogs are just a crutch”, but actually I see dogs as a bridge. I can get to the other side with out the bridge, but it’s a lot more difficult, and I will more than likely choose not to take the journey. In that scenario I am feeding my isolation tendencies. With a dog AKA a bridge I am willing, and able to get to the other side because I know the dog has my back.”
If you are a veteran and would like to take the ESD class with Paws’itive Teams, please go to http://www.pawsteams.org/pawsitive-teams-emotional-support-dogs/.
If you would like to make a tax deductible donation to Ricochet’s Howliday Giving Drive – Operation Socialization to help veterans with PTSD, please go to http://www.surfdogricochet.com/surfin-santa-paws-2016.html.
Photos by Barb McKown