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Event at animal shelter puts focus on PTSD

The Daily Dispatch - 6/19/2019

Jun. 19--HENDERSON -- The public will be given the opportunity to feel the benefits firsthand of walking animal shelter dogs during an event June 27 at Vance County animal shelter in Henderson.

June marks PTSD Awareness Month and PTSD Awareness Day is observed each year on June 27.

Currently, there are about 8 million individuals in this country with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and although PTSD treatments work, most people with PTSD don't get the help they need, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

PTSD itself is a psychiatric disorder that can happen in people who have undergone or witnessed a traumatic event like a "natural disaster, a serious accident, a terrorist act, war/combat, rape or other violent personal assault," according to the American Psychiatric Association.

Vance County's animal shelter has hosted the Veterans Dog Walk before. Now the public will have another opportunity to walk shelter dogs.

"All throughout the country, there are many organizations that, in support of PTSD Awareness Month, they use, they show different methods," said veteran and Vance County animal shelter volunteer Mark Ferri, who is organizing the event. "Of course, service dogs and therapy dogs are a big part, they're specialized animals, they take a lot of training ... but to the general public, on a casual basis, the shelter animals are usually available to anyone to go and visit and see and then maybe even walk or be with."

Take a puppy and put it in your lap or take a kitten and play with it, he said. Also, participants can walk the animal. There's "all kinds" of things an individual can do, Ferri noted.

"But, basically what it does, it gives you a little bit of a break ... you should always want to promote every veteran to go and get medical care," he said. "That goes without saying, medical care is essential. This is a just a very small additional part afterwards."

They always want a veteran to obtain medical care, Ferri said.

"And once they're receiving medical care, then this is another additional therapy tool that's available to them," he said. "Which, doctors will say it's a valid tool and having animals and they promote, even on the VA's website, they talk about wanting veterans to get involved with shelter animals. So they promote that idea of doing it..."

Ferri is in support of what is a "good therapy tool."

"But they don't recognize it as being the main thing. They always recognize cognitive therapy and medication," Ferri said.

Ferri knows the benefits of being around animals firsthand as he previously told Dispatch staff that the experience of being around animals has "immensely" helped him with his post-traumatic stress disorder, to the point where he no longer needs medication.

Animals came up quite a lot while he spoke with Dispatch staff.

As long as there are dogs, puppies, kittens and cats, there will "always" be opportunities for individuals to be able to express their emotions and "not have to worry about being judged or anything else like that," Ferri said.

"And these dogs, they don't judge anyone, " he said. "They are animals, that, in themselves, have been subjected to traumatic experiences, so a lot of these [shelter] dogs, suffer from PTSD as well."

Some of the shelter dogs have been beaten, starved, and are sick, Ferri said. "They're not sick long, when they get here, we treat them, the shelter treats them."

On Thursdays, the local animal shelter is open from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m.

Everyone -- not just veterans and first responders -- is invited to participate in the walk next week.

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