Pets are notoriously beneficial to a human’s well-being. They keep their owners company, they provide a sense of fun and relaxation, and can even serve as great listeners. In fact, some religions, like the pagans, put so much emphasis on pets precisely for their properties of healing and compatibility.

Pagans would often refer to their pets as “familiars,” since the animal would always be present during religious ceremonies such as meditation. Familiars can be anything from cats and dogs to larger animals—as long as a person feels a mutual bond with an animal, that animal can be considered a “familiar”. For combat veterans who have been affected by either mental illness or a traumatic brain injury, this type of companionship might help alleviate their condition as well as bring them a constant source of joy and relief.

The U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs reports that one in five combat veterans suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. PTSD causes individuals to constantly experience flashbacks and nightmares, feelings of anxiety, guilt, or depression, and many sleepless nights. PTSD is developed after an individual has either witnessed or experienced a traumatic event, and normally it becomes difficult for that individual to divulge their thoughts and feelings about that traumatic episode. As a result, an individual can quickly feel isolated from his or her friends and family. However, a pet can serve as a terrific non-judgmental listener, and can provide much-needed care and comfort for someone with PTSD before these symptoms of alienation begin to set.

Animal Planet also provides a great online article called “Top 5 Health Benefits of Owning a Pet” that lists plenty of other healing properties of pets. While the number one reason to have a pet came out to be “to keep your chin up,” the second best reason was that some pets can provide plenty of exercise. How? Well, dogs require plenty of walks (practically on a daily basis), and numerous studies have proven that almost any form of exercise physically and mentally reduces stress levels by decreasing the amount of the stress-hormone cortisol. Instead, exercise releases endorphins—these hormones are responsible for what make us experience feeling good.

But besides the physical benefits, the mere presence of a pet can bring about much-needed mental calming. The wagging tail of a dog, the gentle purr of a cat—these types of signals alert us humans that the animal is content, and as a result, we feel content. Plus, petting a fuzzy creature never hurt anyone before!

Of course, owning a pet cannot serve as the only method to treating PTSD. Since PTSD has no cure, affected individuals (especially veterans) should develop an individualized treatment plan compiled of talk therapy and/or psychiatric medication.

However, veterans should be wary of seeking this sort of treatment through the VA, since reports released by CNN in 2012 revealed that medical professionals associated with the VA prescribed 259% more narcotics than in 2002, and that individualized therapy had fallen by the wayside. Therefore, ailing soldiers and veterans who suffer from PTSD might want to consider consulting outside organizations to rehabilitate their physical and mental health.

One of those organizations is Operation: I.V, a 501(c)3 non-profit founded in 2012 that helps combat veterans heal from both PTSD as well as traumatic brain injuries. Its founder, Roxann Abrams, is a Gold Star Mother who lost her son SFC Randy Abrams in 2009. Randy took his own life after experiencing a PTSD flashback from his service in Iraq. Randy had undiagnosed PTSD- a common occurrence among combat veterans either due to mistakes made by the medical field or simply the individual’s failure to report such grave symptoms.

As a result of her son’s death, Abrams founded Operation: I.V. so that combat veterans who served in either Iraq or Afghanistan have a place to receive treatment through a specialized “VIP”, or “Veteran Intervention Plan” program. “VIP” offers ten different rehabilitation programs, including hyperbolic oxygen therapy, service dogs, and anxiety reduction therapy. Additionally, veterans may also partake in programs such as job retraining, business mentoring, and educational assistance. Again, while there is no cure for PTSD, the programs provided by Operation: I.V. can drastically improve a veteran’s mental health and overall outlook on life!

Author's Bio: 

Abigail Fazelat is a contributing writer for Operation: I.V., a non-profit organization founded by Gold Star Mother Roxann Abrams who lost her son SFC Randy Abrams to PTSD. Randy took his own life after experiencing a wartime flashback- an experience not uncommon to any combat veteran. As a result, Abrams founded Operation: I.V. as an “intravenous of help” for other Iraq and Afghanistan combat veterans suffering from PTSD, traumatic brain injuries, and contemplating suicide. Fazelat has worked for the organization since October 2013 under a pseudonym.