Welcome to ReCHAI
The Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction (ReCHAI) is proud to announce our Veterans and Shelter Dogs Initiative — a multifaceted program consisting of research programs directed at facilitating successful adoption of shelter dogs, and helping combat veterans fight the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) to re-integrate into civilian life.
Over the last two years more than 2 million U.S. soldiers have been deployed to combat theaters. After returning home, from 13-30% of these soldiers will experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), an anxiety disorder that can occur after exposure to a life threatening event. Stigma promotes the belief that only weaklings experience it. Fears of stigma may prevent veterans from admitting to symptoms, seeking assistance and following medical advice. PTSD is characterized by re-experiencing intrusive memories, hyper-arousal or heightened vigilance, and numbing or avoidance in relationships. Outcomes and prevalence of PTSD are significant issues for families and communities. Returned veterans need relief from PTSD symptoms, structure in their lives, and ways to reduce stress and successfully re-integrate into civilian life.
Tens of thousands of dogs are abandoned to animal shelters annually. While the goal is for them to find permanent homes, the reality is that a majority may fail to be adopted because there simply are not enough caretakers to help them learn needed skills to be successful family members. Skills training for the dogs may greatly increase their likelihood of successful adoption and a beneficial life.
Merging returned veterans with shelter dogs through this study accomplishes major goals for both. Veterans will have an important role in helping shelter dogs. This will also provide the veterans with a sense of purpose, some structure, opportunities for relaxation, exercise, and a greater sense of well-being. Shelter dogs will learn skills crucial to their success outside of the shelter.
Implementation: The study occurs in Three Phases.
Part 1: The Veterans will be randomized to either a training group or a non-training group. Dog-training group participants will go to the animal training site (either Columbia or Springfield, MO) for weekly training sessions over a 24 week period. We will orient them to the program on their first visit (including an explanation of safe dog and leash handling). They will be helped to select a behaviorally pre-screened (by shelter staff) dog to train. If the dog they are training is adopted they will select another dog to train. They will work in groups with a dog trainer and dog at the training site for two, one hour sessions per week. We will ask them to complete a weekly training dairy, recording their work and comments about the training. The Veterans will receive $50.00 compensation for participation in part one.
Part 2: Veterans will serve as adoption mentors for new adopters of shelter dogs. They will make telephone calls to the adopters monthly for 6 months, providing helpful information and referral for problems encountered with the dogs.
Part 3: The Veterans with particular aptitude for training dogs will advance to training shelter dogs to work as PTSD service dogs for other veterans needing the support of such a dog. The Veterans will receive $500.00 compensation for participation in part three.
Data collection will include participant demographics, height, weight, dog ownership history, beliefs about dog ownership, mood, social support, response to stressful situations, family functioning and physical activity. The data collected will not be shared with any outside group. We will study physical health, substance use, employment, weekly physical activity outside of the dog walking, social support, and family functioning. We expect to see improvements in mood, physical activity and family functioning in the Veterans. Additionally, we expect to see better adoption rates of dogs and fewer post-adoption returns of dogs to the shelters.
For more information or to sign up for the study please contact:
CPL Johnny D. Miller Jr., US Army, Ret.
Mission Continues Fellow
Charlotte McKenney, RN, BSN
Assistant Director, Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction
Rebecca Johnson, PhD, RN, FAAN
Millsap Professor of Gerontological Nursing MU Sinclair School of Nursing
Director, Research Center for Human Animal Interaction MU College of Veterinary Medicine Clydesdale Annex #2 Columbia, MO 65211
Download program brochure