Louisville Magazine

AUG 2018

Louisville Magazine is Louisville's city magazine, covering Louisville people, lifestyles, politics, sports, restaurants, entertainment and homes. Includes a monthly calendar of events.

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76 LOUISVILLE MAGAZINE 8.18 in the arms of a human. Earlier this year, an archeologist/veterinarian studied a 14,000-year-old site in Germany in which a puppy was buried with a family. He concluded that the 28-week-old pup had been cared for by humans after it contracted distemper. All of this makes dogs likely candidates for working with people with PTSD. But most of the evidence in support of their use is based on personal testimony. As compelling as those stories are, they don't meet the standard of evidence-based medicine that places like the Veteran's Administration demand. A preliminary study published this year, however, begins to build a case in dogs' favor. Marguerite O'Haire of Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine measured levels of the stress hormone cortisol in 73 military veterans with PTSD, 45 of whom had a service dog. In most of us, cortisol levels are low when we wake, but within a half hour, as we anticipate the coming day, cortisol rises, O'Haire says. For people with PTSD, however, cortisol levels don't rise because they never dropped. "ey're always in a state of hyperarousal. ey're always on alert. So we don't see the normal rise in cortisol," she says. Veterans in her study collected saliva upon waking and again 30 minutes later, and overnighted the samples to Purdue. "What we found is that individuals who had a service dog — that cortisol rise appeared again," O'Haire says. Service dog owners also experienced fewer PTSD symptoms than those without. But it will take further research to determine just what is going on. Not that any of this research would matter much to Darren Bennett. He's already a believer. It's Friday, so Bennett is wearing red, which stands for Remember Everyone Deployed. His own deployment never lets him forget, even though he came back from Iraq a decade ago. Bennett is 6'3" and 300- plus pounds, with soft blue eyes. He's the kind of man who can't let his kids leave the house without telling his sons A local television station picked up the story. Over the next two weeks, three people approached him and asked, "Have you ever thought of starting a nonprofit?" He mentioned the idea to Duffy. "We talked about what it would entail, what it would mean, how I could help him," Duffy says. Finally, one afternoon Benson and a friend sat on the tailgate of her truck in downtown Jeffersonville and brainstormed. Benson realized he already had most of the pieces in place: He had a supply of dogs through local rescue groups. He had trainers: the inmates at the Kentucky State Reformatory who train dogs rescued by the Humane Society of Oldham County. He had the support of Duffy and the training center. He had supporters in the people who had approached him about starting a nonprofit. His mission, he decided, would be to provide dogs to veterans, first-responders and the families of veterans killed in service, the Gold Star families. Dogs Helping Heroes was born. Although research on the efficacy of using dogs to help people with post-traumatic stress disorder is in its infancy, evidence suggests the intervention makes sense. No other animal bonds with humans the way dogs do. In fact, studies show dogs are a natural high and then some. Play with or pet a dog and your brain releases neurochemicals inexorably tied to well-being. Among these are oxytocin, the hormone released in contact as basic as a hug and as profound as sex. It's also critical in mother-infant bonding. Also part of the alchemy are the natural pain-killers known as endorphins, often associated with the euphoria of a runner's high. Dogs also trigger the neurotransmitter dopamine, which has a principal role in feelings of pleasure. Even prolactin levels rise in human-dog interactions; although the hormone is best known for its role in milk production after childbirth, it contributes to metabolism and immune function and sexual health in both men and women. It's also involved in feelings of nurture. A study published in 2015 in a leading research journal, Science, suggests that dogs have hijacked the circuits of human bonding. e researchers uncovered a feel-good feedback loop in action when we gaze into our dogs' eyes. Levels of oxytocin rose in both dogs and humans after dogs and their owners locked eyes. e longer the look of love, the higher the rise in oxytocin levels. (Cats show some of this bonding, too. eir oxytocin levels rise when they play with us, but only by about 12 percent, compared with nearly 60 percent in dogs, one study showed.) is interlacing of human and dog began long before recorded history. Dogs were the first instance of domestication, before cows, pigs and chickens, and also before corn, wheat or rice. Just how long dogs have lived with humans is a contentious subject among researchers, with some concluding that dog domestication occurred as recently as 12,000 years ago and others placing the date as far back as 135,000 years ago. Either date appears to be long enough to make the interspecies relationship unique. ere's no question that early humans (and later ones) put dogs to work. And dogs were also on the menu for many. But even 12,000 years ago, dogs were part of the family. In the 1970s, archaeologists uncovered a 12,000-year- old burial site in Israel where a dog lay Without Hoss, Bennett is sure his life would be limited. "I would still be sitting in the house," he says. "I'm still very hypervigilant, but I know I have my buddy with me. I consider him my battle buddy."

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