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Meet Taika, Service Dog

Taika, a service dog poses for a photo shoot, Sunday, December 6, 2015, Battle Creek Air National Guard Base, Mich. Taika is part of Dogs in Honor, a  non-profit organization based in Traverse City, Michigan that seeks to pair veterans experiencing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) with a trained service dog to foster emotional, mental, and physical healing. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Sonia Pawloski/released)

Taika, a service dog poses for a photo shoot, Sunday, December 6, 2015, Battle Creek Air National Guard Base, Mich. Taika is part of Dogs in Honor, a non-profit organization based in Traverse City, Michigan that seeks to pair veterans experiencing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) with a trained service dog to foster emotional, mental, and physical healing. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Sonia Pawloski/released)

Battle Creek, Mich. -- Dogs in Honor is a non-profit organization based in Traverse City, Michigan that seeks to pair veterans experiencing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) with a trained service dog to foster emotional, mental, and physical healing. According to the organization's website, 82% of veterans with PTSD had decreased symptoms, and some were able to take fewer or completely stop taking medications when paired with a service dog. This is a significant gift to America's veteran population, of which eleven to twenty percent of veterans serving after 9/11 are said to experience PTSD, according to Department of Veterans Affairs research. 

Staff Sergeant Andrew Smith of the 110th Communications Flight says that his service dog, Taika (acquired though Dogs in Honor), has provided several support functions since his return from a deployment to Afghanistan in 2010. "She reminds me to take medicine, alerts me to when I am in a stressful situation, and wakes me up when I am having nightmares," Smith said. "Possibly the biggest thing she has done so far, however, is bring PTSD out from the shadows."  In the last five years, the unit Smith served with on Active Duty has lost five members to suicide, and he believes that a more open dialogue about the difficulties of PTSD could have prevented this. "I tried to suppress my PTSD," he admitted. "Recently, I have been going to the Vet Center in Traverse City, and they have helped me to realize that the only way to get better is to face the PTSD head on. Trying to hide from PTSD does not work; it festers and eats away at oneself. 

For Staff Sergeant Smith, Taika's unconditional companionship has been a major factor in his ability to continue working normally, in spite of his experience with PTSD. However, since this means Taika is also working, there are occasionally times when she can become distracted when people show interest in her. This is why Smith suggests that the best way to show respect for Taika is to simply ignore her. "Unfortunately, while she is working, she can accept no petting or attention," he says. "Of course, you can still talk and interact with me as normal, though!"

Although it is never appropriate to ask a veteran about the events that caused their PTSD (they'll share that when and if they feel comfortable), the availability of service dogs to those experiencing its effects offers a major step in acknowledging the condition's presence on both an individual and societal level.               

"If hearing the story of me and Taika and our battle with PTSD helps one person to seek help, it is worth it," says Smith. We at the 110th Attack Wing can be thankful to have Taika's symbol of courage and strength in our midst.