For Florida veterans with PTSD, puppies not pills | Column
June is recognized as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Month, and today is National PTSD Awareness Day.
K9 Partners for Patriots in Brooksville exists to prevent veteran suicide by providing a positive path forward.
K9 Partners for Patriots in Brooksville exists to prevent veteran suicide by providing a positive path forward. [ K9 Partners for Patriots ]
Published June 27, 2023

In a society that seems to believe pills solve almost every human problem, it’s not surprising that discussions on post-traumatic stress disorder prompt frustration. “Why hasn’t anyone come up with something to fix all those veterans?”

In his State of the Union address, President Joe Biden cited the latest veteran suicide statistics and said: “We’ve got to do more.”

Gregg Laskoski
Gregg Laskoski [ Courtesy of Gregg Laskoski ]

Where care and improvement truly begins is with public understanding. We must recognize that the scars of profound horrors, no matter how old, remain perilously fresh; they do not subside and heal. Instead, they hide under sensitive “triggers” ready to traumatize again and again.

Frustrated by ineffective pills and therapies, veterans struggling with PTSD often self-isolate, and that’s a troubling choice that must be discouraged by any means necessary.

At K9 Partners for Patriots in Brooksville, we do not want our veterans to walk alone. We exist to prevent veteran suicide by providing a positive path forward. But it’s the veteran who must take the first step.

We offer veterans a free, six-month training program in which we teach them how to train the K-9 that becomes their working service dog. Many of these dogs are rescued from shelters, but to qualify, they must be able to alert positively to the scent of adrenaline. With that innate skill they are able to “work” 24/7 for their veteran, drawing their attention and bringing the veteran back to the present when their PTSD triggers create severe anxiety and stress.

Olivia Gindhart-Long, a Marine Corps veteran from Pinellas County, graduated K9P4P last year with her service dog, Lilly. “Having Lilly by my side has been a blessing. She has helped me be able to go places when I struggle to do so on my own. She’s been a companion that has been able to comfort me through dark times. I have even become more confident in myself.” She noted that she’s also been able to reconnect with her sister. “Before having my service dog, I could go a year or longer without speaking to her.” Together with Lilly, she graduated from the University of South Florida in May.

Teri Pleinis, an Army veteran in South Tampa, says her service dog, Sandy, is diligently on-duty for her even when around family. “She’s been there for me in some rough times. She is always there for me and checking in on me. She loves attention from the entire family, but you can see that she seeks my approval. Just being around her and her unconditional love releases endorphins that tend to keep me positive and moving forward.”

Service dogs are not the panacea for PTSD. There is no “cure,” and it never goes away. But a well-trained service dog tuned in to its veteran can be lifesaving.

After hearing about K9P4P from another veteran in Keystone Heights, Army veteran Travis Mack and his K-9, “Bear,” traveled weekly for six months from his home in Clay County. He says his family had suffered greatly before he was paired with Bear. But they welcomed the progress of their father, their husband and his K-9 partner.

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“The service dog gave me a reason to fight for my life and connections,” he said. “My family became a part of the journey. I was no longer the veteran who remained confined in the house and never wanted to go outside. The training you learn becomes a part of your life and mission away from the military. It improved my quality of life as well as theirs. They could experience more with their father and husband.”

Gregg Laskoski is the communications director for K9 Partners for Patriots, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in Brooksville.