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Research Projects - Paws for Purple Hearts

Bergin University's Paws for Purple Hearts (PPH) program is the only program of its kind in the world. It builds on the time-honored tradition of soldiers assisting other soldiers.

Paws for Purple Hearts helps heal our returning combat veterans by teaching those with psychological scars, including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), to train service dogs for their comrades with physical disabilities.

Visit the main PPH website here: http://www.pawsforpurplehearts.org/

Healing Psychological Scars

In PPH's Warrior CARE Program, also known as Canine Assisted Reintegration Experience (CARE), the servicemen and women are first trained to train service dogs in over 90 commands. Using this expert knowledge and their honed training skills, they move onto training dogs that will be partnered to assist comrades with physical injuries.

The process of training a service dog for a fellow veteran can help address many of the symptoms associated with psychological injuries including PTSD. It also creates a positive sense of purpose and reinforces military values.

The soldiers who are trainers experience the unconditional love and support of the dogs in training. This connection offers stress relief as these servicemen and women reintegrate back into their community. Training the dogs enhances self worth, and provides an opportunity to practice emotional regulation and a reason for participating in new social relationships

Increased Independence for Those with Physical Injuries

The service dogs are trained to assist in activities of daily living by opening doors, retrieving dropped items and pulling wheelchairs. These are just a few of the many benefits that a service dog provides. Plus the dog also offers unconditional love and acceptance.

The service dog accompanies their partner everywhere - home, work, anywhere their lives take them. In many cases, service dogs perform tasks that were previously performed by an attendant or family member; thus reducing the veteran's dependence on other people.

Early Successes

PPH has been integrated into the Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care Service’s Menlo Park location under the direction of their Recreation Therapy Services. Clinical observations by the treatment team underscore the areas of impact that the dogs and the dog training exercises have made with the servicemen and women include: increased patience, impulse control and emotional regulation, increased positive social interactions, less isolation, decreased depression, increase in positive sense of purpose, improved sleep, decreased startle responses, decreased need for pain medications, increased sense of belonging and acceptance, increased assertiveness skills and improved parenting skills and family dynamics.

The PPH program’s second location was launched in February 2009 -- Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Documentation of the results of the Menlo Park PPH program encouraged Walter Reed Army Medical Center to move ahead with the program.

Your Support is Needed

Several veterans’ programs, having read of the unique solutions being offered those with PTSD, have requested that the PPH program be made available to them. Bergin University would love to accommodate these requests, but we have pledged to go slowly, ensuring first that each site is solidly funded. Your help in supporting this program would be most earnestly appreciated.