Therapy dogs have shown promise in helping veterans overcome challenges associated with post-traumatic stress disorder, and now some of the youngest members of the military community are also turning to four-legged friends for comfort. This summer, a number of therapy dogs visited Operation Purple – a camp for kids with parents who are deployed – and the early returns have been overwhelmingly positive, Fox affiliate WTFX reported.
A long-standing relationship
Canine companions coming to Operation Purple, which has locations all over the country, continue the tradition of dogs in the military. As far back as World War II, therapy dogs were sent to help comfort injured soldiers, and more recently with veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan. Using them to alleviate the stress placed on military children is relatively new, but therapy dogs have currently visited all 14 Operation Purple summer camps. The benefits to such a program are very apparent, experts say.
"Therapy dogs have been shown to reduce anxiety, decrease depression and increase self-esteem and confidence," Amy McCullough of the American Humane Institute told the news channel. "So at the summer camps we see therapy dogs distract kids from their worries, help with homesickness and provide conversation starters to make new friends."
Uncovering effective ways to help military children overcome their obstacles has become particularly important in light of recent findings. One of the most significant challenges they have to overcome is the product of frequent moves. According to the Department of Defense, military children attend between seven and nine different schools before graduating. As a result, military children often see social, emotional and behavioral problems civilian youngsters do not, according to a 2011 study from the RAND Center for Military Health and Policy Research.
"Long and frequent deployments, with short dwell times in between, have placed stresses on Army children and families already challenged by frequent moves and parental absences," the report said.
The findings echo results of a more recent study from the nonprofit Child Trends that examined the effects deployment has on children. Specifically, the research found that young children are particularly vulnerable to long-term emotional strain. More specifically, anxiety is common among young military children who have a parent serving overseas, and that is often heightened if they return from combat with injuries.