"She gives me purpose."
That was one of the first things Caleb Davisson said about his service dog, Velvet, when we had him on the show this Fourth of July to talk about what Canine Companions for Independence service dogs can do for veterans with PTSD.
It’s also one of the reasons why I’m raising Spike to become a service dog.
We could all use a little extra help some days. And if a sweet pup like Spike can help one of our veterans returning from war and bring some purpose back into their lives, that makes giving him up easier.
Don’t get me wrong, though. I’ll be crying like a baby for days.
Caleb joined the Marine Corps in 2007 as a sniper, doing tours in Afghanistan until 2012. His tours left him with invisible scars, in the form of hypervigilance, flashbacks and anxiety.
Caleb was one of the first veterans to volunteer for a joint study between the Department of Veterans Affairs and Canine Companions for Independence to document whether veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can be helped by partnering with a highly trained service dog.
Velvet, a black Labrador/Golden Retriever cross, was one of the first dogs specially trained by Canine Companions as part of the study to assist with symptoms of PTSD by performing specific commands.
Velvet and Caleb were matched through the VA Study in 2015. “Her purpose is so much deeper than the tasks she performs,” says Caleb. “She provides me with companionship and relies on me to care for her needs too."
Velvet's duties include creating a buffer between Caleb and other people by standing in front of or behind Caleb, turning on the lights before Caleb enters a room, and even letting Caleb know if someone is in the room when he’s experiencing hypervigilance.
The results of the VA study won’t be released until 2019, but Caleb enthusiastically believes Velvet helps him tremendously in his everyday life.
Encouraged by the how far veterans like Caleb have come in the VA study, Canine Companions has started a separate pilot program to train assistance dogs for veterans with PTSD.
Currently, the pilot program is located in Santa Rosa, Calif., at Canine Companions’ National Headquarters, and works with local agencies to identify veterans living within 90 miles of the center who may benefit from a highly-trained assistance dog.
These exceptional dogs are trained in nightmare interruption, retrieving items from a distance, turning on lights, and acting as a buffer by taking specific positions next to their handler.
Since partnering through the VA study, Caleb and Velvet are thriving as a team, and are also great ambassadors for Canine Companions, which until now has only served individuals with physical disabilities.
Velvet helps bring awareness to Caleb’s invisible disability, and like the future placements in Canine Companions’ own pilot program, helps enhance independence for a veteran who has bravely served our country.
As the Canine Companions pilot program grows, it will roll out across the country to veterans and first responders with PTSD.
Learn more about Caleb, Velvet and Canine Companions at CCI.org.