Colcom Foundation, a private philanthropic non-profit based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, has been working to make life a little easier for veterans suffering from PTSD by partnering with Guardian Angels Medical Service Dogs to provide service dogs at no cost to veterans in need.
Guardian Angels Medical Service Dogs is a non-profit organization that provides highly trained medical service dogs to veterans, first responders, and individuals with disabilities. These service dogs are trained to perform various jobs to mitigate the challenges faced by their handlers and give them back their self-confidence and independence.
One of the primary jobs these dogs are trained for is to help with the challenges of Post Traumatic Stress (PTS) for veterans and first responders. These dogs are trained to shield their handlers, ground them during anxiety/panic attacks and flashbacks, and wake them up from nightmares. The dogs are also specially trained to sense an impending medical emergency before it happens and alert their handler to danger.
One such recipient is Craig Hodgkins, a Marine Corps Veteran. Hodgkins was suffering from PTSD and was finding it difficult to reintegrate into society, gradually withdrawing from society after serving in the military for 21 years. He had retreated from family and friends, spending most of his time in his basement, unable to talk about what was going on with him. He even avoided going out during the day and only went to the grocery store at 2 a.m.
Through counseling and meeting with other veterans, Hodgkins realized that a service dog might be the perfect solution for him. He applied and was approved for a Guardian Angels Medical Service Dog. Hodgkins was paired with Foxy, a black German Shepherd sponsored by Colcom Foundation.
Colcom Foundation sponsored the 18 to 24-month training needed for Foxy to be ready to assist with mobility issues, traumatic brain injuries, PTSD, and other combat-related injuries. Foxy is specially trained to sense Hodgkins’ mood and anxiety levels and can provide a calming presence when needed.
Two Guardian Angels trainers drove for 17 hours in a rented 15-foot cargo van to Grove City, about an hour outside of Pittsburgh, with six service dogs in tow – all being delivered to recipients in the region. The trainers, along with a couple of prior recipients who came with their dogs to help out, spent five days at a hotel working to acquaint the veterans with their new service dogs. Hodgkins quickly developed a strong bond with Foxy during the training. On the last day in Grove City, he said, “I’ve smiled more in the last five days than I have in the last five years.”
Foxy’s impact goes well beyond just giving Hodgkins a sense of freedom. She has already prevented him from getting hurt on at least one occasion. When Hodgkins was climbing a ladder to decorate his new apartment, Foxy sensed that something was wrong and started whining. Hodgkins respected Foxy’s warning, and he sat down immediately. It turned out that his vertigo had gone into overdrive, and he would have fallen off the ladder if Foxy hadn’t warned him. Foxy’s ability to pick up on Hodgkin’s vertigo is just one example of how attuned she is to his needs.
With Foxy by his side, Hodgkins knows that he can tackle any challenge that comes his way. She is not just a service dog to him; she’s a true partner who has transformed his life in the most profound ways. In an interview five weeks after being paired with Foxy, Hodgkins said that he had gone to the grocery store, the hardware store, and anywhere he wanted to go more times since he and Foxy were paired than in the previous five years. “Last night, the words started flowing on a song I’m writing about Foxy and how this has changed my life. All I can say is the title of the song – that I have ‘A New Leash on Life,” he said.
The cost of training a dog like Foxy is $25,000, which would make owning such a dog impossible for many veterans without the sponsorship of organizations like Colcom Foundation.
Beyond the individual impact on Hodgkins and other Colcom Foundation sponsored service dog recipients, the Foundation’s support also helps address a larger problem of veterans’ mental health. The high suicide rate among veterans with PTSD is a serious concern, and service dogs have been shown to have a positive effect on their mental health and well-being.
Every day, between 17 and 22 veterans commit suicide because of PTSD. By sponsoring Guardian Angels Medical Service Dogs, Colcom is making a significant effort to help alleviate the symptoms of PTSD, with the ultimate goal of reducing veteran suicide rates and helping veterans like Craig Hodgkins live better, more fulfilling lives.
Additional information about Colcom Foundations’s advocacy efforts here: https://waterlandlife.org/land-conservation/colcom-revolving-fund-for-local-land-trusts/