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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Dogs ease veterans' trauma at Palo Alto VA center

Dogs ease veterans' trauma at Palo Alto VA center
San Jose Mercury News
By Mark Emmons
November 19, 2013
Veteran William Smith with his dog, "Venuto" at their Modesto home Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2013. Smith, who is handicapped, received the dog from a service dog program for veterans. Some of man’s best friends are playing an innovative role in the VA Palo Alto Men’s Trauma Recovery Program as four-legged therapy for vets finding their way through the emotional darkness of post-traumatic stress disorder through Paws for Purple Hearts. (Patrick Tehan/Bay Area News Group)

MENLO PARK -- The black Labrador retriever knew something was wrong. He refused to leave the side of Sandro Navarro, repeatedly nuzzling the troubled man, trying to comfort him.

It was the anniversary of that terrible 2003 day in Iraq when Navarro was the first to arrive at a blast scene that killed two friends in his Army unit and severely wounded a third. Somehow, the dog named Jason realized he was distraught.

"It was like he was telling me, 'I'm going to keep licking your face until you stop feeling down, and I going to make you smile by doing something goofy,' " said Navarro, 36.

Some of man's best friends are playing an innovative role in the VA Palo Alto Men's Trauma Recovery Program as four-legged therapy for veterans finding their way through the darkness of post-traumatic stress disorder, thanks to Paws for Purple Hearts. The dogs are so perceptive they even will awaken vets from nightmares.

But there's also a dual purpose to the program. Some of the veterans who come to the VA's Menlo Park campus from around the country for military-related PTSD treatment are helping train the canines to become service dogs for physically disabled vets.
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