Dogs return home from war, deal with post traumatic stress
Jofa is a four-legged wet nosed warrior who is now back home after being on the front lines of the war on terror.
Jofa and his original handler—Sgt. Zainah Creamer—were a team few could match.
"This particular team had a closer bond than I had seen before," said Captain Aulbrio Fennell.
The two were deployed together in 2010. But, during a mission in January 2011, Sgt. Creamer stepped on an explosive device with Jofa still on the leash.
Jofa was unharmed physically, but was sent back to Fort Belvoir to be examined.
“You could tell things are different with him,” Fennell said.
“It's hard on them just like it's hard on our people,” said Military canine expert, Dr. Walter Burghardt.
Burghardt says at least five percent of dogs that experience traumatic combat experiences like Jofa can suffer side effects.
Burghardt says this troubling behavior is consistent with canine post-traumatic stress disorder—similar name, but different than the human condition.
“We can't rely on symptoms… We have to really at their observable behavior,” Burghdart said.
Burghardt says some highly trained military working dogs developed PTSD after long-term combat exposure.
“They’ve got these exposures to things exploding… People running all over the place…those are the things that seem to be the predisposing factors,” Burgdardt said.
Some PTSD dogs take months to recover, while others never bounce back. Jofa was able to get right back into training.
“I think right now he's great he's fine,” said his new handler, Staff Sgt. Matthew Holley.
Holley says he doesn't know if they'll be deployed together, but, he believes Jofa is prepared if duty calls again.
“We go train. We patrol. I trust him... He trusts me,” Holley said.
Dr. Burghardt says about half of dogs diagnosed with PTSD are able to go back into military service. The other half are typically adopted or transferred to another area to work.
Creamer gave the ultimate sacrifice and now the hope is that Jofa will share the same unique bond with his new handler Holley.
Sgt. Creamer is receiving a special honor as well. The kennel at Fort Belvoir is dedicated to her.
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