Guest Columnist

Deafinitely Dogs: Dogs respond to increased trauma and stress

The Gazette asked Eastern Iowa nonprofit leaders to write about the changing needs of our community in 2020

Rudy rests under the seat where Lorette Vanourny, co-founder of Deafinitely Dogs, at the organization's training center
Rudy rests under the seat where Lorette Vanourny, co-founder of Deafinitely Dogs, at the organization's training center in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, March 25, 2020. The small nonprofit, which relies entirely on donations to operate, trains dogs to be assist the Deaf and hard-of-hearing with daily tasks, provide emotional support and alert them to visitors or emergencies. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

Stress, loneliness, isolation, fear and fatigue are just a few words to describe the effects of 2020 on mental health. Deafinitely Dogs has shifted our program focus and strategies to deal with the effects of COVID19 and how people can help during the holiday season.

Deafinitely Dogs had to make the difficult decision to pause training for autism, diabetic and mobility assist service dogs. After COVID invaded our community, the requests for PTSD/ssychiatric service dogs and professional facility dogs have skyrocketed. Requests for professional facility dogs have been received from health care professionals, organization, caregivers and mental health specialist. People who previously were able to manage their depression and anxiety are having extreme difficulties managing symptoms given the isolation and loneliness.

A unique thing about Deafinitely Dogs is we train PTSD service dogs for both veterans and civilians. Why is this important? As you think about the impact of COVID, think about those who serve in other ways — nurses, doctors, first responders and our front-line medical and mental care specialist. We are experiencing and anticipate a significant need for PTSD and professional facility dogs for this group.

Post-traumatic stress is a condition that can develop after a person experiences psychological trauma for a sustained amount of time. The trauma causes disruption and distress in one’s life. Just as combat soldiers have a higher rate of PTSD than civilians, the medical and mental health fields are observing an increase of PTSD both in patients who have been hospitalized with COVID and mental and medical health care workers.

The health care workers caring for patients with COVID are experiencing not only the stress of continual exposure to the virus, but increased illnesses, deaths and the stress caused by shortages of lifesaving personal protective equipment. This stress is significant! Then add on the stress of patient’s isolation, physical discomfort and fear of death. Not only the patients, but their caregivers are experiencing these traumas.

So now some good news! Deafinitely Dogs has seen and experienced the tremendous impact that PTSD/psychiatric service dogs provide to their human partners. The transformation in our clients is breathtaking. Someone who previously was isolated, had nightmares and flashbacks, could not function in public settings and did not fully respond to medications — started engaging with people, therapies and their community again. These clients started living a life more independent and happier because of their service dogs.

This is why Deafinitely Dogs has had to make the difficult decision to pause placement of some of our service dogs to focus on immediate and urgent future needs. We have experienced PTSD service dogs providing the most impact to our clients and want to be able to provide this service to the hero’s in our community.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

During this holiday season, consider sponsoring a service-dog-in-training. Sponsorships can be monthly or a onetime donation. Or give the gift of a sponsorship. The recipient will receive a picture of the puppy, periodic pictures of the puppy in training and a graduation picture. Your gift provides support to train and place service dogs and continues to give.

If you or your company is looking for a unique way to donate, you can donate to name a puppy or provide full sponsorship of a service dog.

Looking to get personally involved? Consider fostering a service-dog-in-training. You take a puppy into your home and attend classes at Deafinitely Dogs. Social distancing guidance has shifted this program to online training courses. You are not only changing a life by training an amazing dog, but learning skills for your own pets. As COVID fades from our community we will have many other opportunities to help in the office and at events.

Deafinitely Dogs is always willing to share our mission with organizations or individuals who wish to learn more about our services or donate. Start a conversation with us by phone, email or social media. Donations can be made directly on our website www.deafinitelydogs.org or call 319-930-DOGS (3647). Deafinitely Dogs is a nonprofit that needs support in order to place these life changing service dogs with our heroes.

Sherry Steine Ross is co-founding director of Deafinitely Dogs.

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We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.