after former Marine Ryan Holiday of Cedarburg came home from the war in
Iraq, he knew he needed help.
near the Syrian border, he sustained injuries when his vehicle was hit
by a roadside bomb. He still battles stomach and shoulder injuries. But
it was the mental demons that forced him to reach out for help.
"The sleeplessness, the wild drinking, the things going through
your head that arenít normal," says Holiday. He understood those
demons. His father, a Vietnam veteran, suffered from post-traumatic
stress disorder and took his own life when Ryan was 19.
28-year-old Illinois transplant, relief came in the form of a chocolate
Labrador-pointer mix by the name of Jocko from Paws of War, a veterans
aid organization that trains emotional therapy dogs for vets with PTSD
and other stress issues. Paws of War matched the pair, a process that
took about five months. "It was a long time, but any amount of time
would have been worth it," he says. "Heís certainly eased
the burden of my mind."
experiences problems with crowds and strangers, says Jocko watches his
back. He knows "when Iím not confident when a certain person gets
too close to me," he says. Jocko will growl to warn that person to
back off, giving Holiday the space he needs to get comfortable. "He
makes me feel more confident about being around people I donít
founder of Guardians of Rescue, the parent organization of Paws of War,
says animals have a very therapeutic, calming effect on people. They can
draw out even the most isolated personality, and having to praise the
animals helps traumatized veterans overcome emotional numbness. Teaching
a dog service commands develops a personís ability to communicate, to
be assertive but not aggressive, a distinction some struggle with. The
dogs can also assuage the hypervigilance common in vets with PTSD. Some
participants report they finally got some sleep knowing that a naturally
alert soul was standing watch.
found evidence that bonding with dogs has biological effects, such as
elevated levels of the hormone oxytocin, which improves trust, and the
overcoming of paranoia and other pro-social effects.
For Holiday, Jocko
"makes you feel like youíre not alone with some of the stuff you
go through, in a way that people canít," he says.
Paws of War is a
free service for veterans who suffer from PTSD and other emotional
coping issues. Much of its efforts are centered on raising money for
training costs, which can run into thousands of dollars per animal. If
youíd like to help out or want more information, go to