Thursday, 29 November 2012

Military's dogs of war also suffer post-traumatic stress disorder


LACKLAND AIR FORCE BASE, Texas — Not long after a Belgian Malinois named Cora went off to war, she earned a reputation for sniffing out the buried bombs that were the enemy's weapon of choice to kill or maim U.S. troops.

Cora could roam a hundred yards or more off her leash, detect an explosive and then lie down gently to signal danger. All she asked in return was a kind word or a biscuit, maybe a play session with a chew toy once the squad made it back to base.

"Cora always thought everything was a big game," said Air Force Tech. Sgt. Garry Laub, who trained Cora before she deployed. "She knew her job. She was a very squared-away dog."

But after months in Iraq and dozens of combat patrols, Cora changed. The transformation was not the result of one traumatic moment, but possibly the accumulation of stress and uncertainty brought on by the sharp sounds, high emotion and ever-present death in a war zone.

Cora — deemed a "push-button" dog, one without much need for supervision — became reluctant to leave her handler's side. Loud noises startled her. The once amiable Cora growled frequently and picked fights with other military working dogs.
When Cora returned to the U.S. two years ago, there was not a term for the condition that had undercut her combat effectiveness and shattered her nerves. Now there is: canine post-traumatic stress disorder.

"Dogs experience combat just like humans," said Marine Staff Sgt. Thomas Gehring, a dog handler assigned to the canine training facility at Lackland Air Force Base, who works with Cora daily.

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