(27) The Commonality Between Dog Allergies and PTSD

Molly, the service dog

Golly, Miss Molly

A blog about a service dog and her veteran with PTSD

(Supporting the veteran and the family caregiver)


What do dog allergies and PTSD Have in Common?

 I hope you have not tired of hearing about Miss Molly’s hives and scratching. Snow will soon bury Colorado along with the allergens. Until then, we work closely with Molly’s veterinarian to rid her of the pesky rash that keeps her scratching all day and night. We thought we beat the allergy because we no longer heard the jingle of her dog tags as she scratched. It did not take us long to realize Molly figured out a way to scratch without the noise by twisting the tags on her collar onto the top of her head where they nestled in her plush fur. Once we busted her for that trick, we again thought we defeated the itches by the absence of scratching sounds. Then we figured out the reason she took to sleeping in the closet—so we would not hear or see her scratching. Now we close the closet door so sleeps out in the open by our bed where she cannot escape our watch.

My husband tries to hide his PTSD attacks much as Molly hides her scratching. While William no longer wears dog tags, he tries hiding his symptoms and often denies his condition. He hid his condition from the world for decades, as he battled PTSD alone. As life progressed after Vietnam, he worked for 12 years as an engineer for nuclear power plants, electric utilities, and consulting firms. His success kept him employed and he made a good income. No one suspected his secret.

Slowly, the symptoms manifested in the form of failing marriages, lost contracts, and drug addiction. His symptoms slammed him down so hard, he lost everything dear to him when his ex-wife succeeded in taking his children away.

Using the Molly comparison, William hid his symptoms by easy tricks. As they worsened, he removed himself from those who could help. Then, he gave up.

Many veterans and warriors believe PTSD shows weakness. Denial ranks among the first reaction to a suggestion that he or she might suffer from the disease. Through discipline and strength of character, the person succeeds in hiding the symptoms. Soon, addictions surface, as the veteran or warrior strives to control or hide dysfunctional behaviors caused by PTSD.

When I worked as a city manager, I accompanied several generals and business people on a Civic Leader Tour. When I shared with a General that my husband suffered from PTSD, I heard a litany of reasons why those suffering from the disease should never be allowed in the military in the first place. His views paralleled those I read about in history books written at the conclusion of the Vietnam War when doctors fought the military to have PTSD defined as a legitimate disease. No wonder men and women with military backgrounds try to hide their symptoms.

Now that Molly sleeps at the foot of our bed, we know what is going on with her and can help her. In fact, it appears the allergy is under control. We believe the allergen hid in plain sight right out our front door—scrub oak. She crawls all over it as she plays and does her business. We now spend our days keeping the oak cut down and making sure Molly swallows her medication. Cutting back on her spa treatments, Molly’s fur will be allowed to grow out so her bare skin is protected.

Historically, for good reason men and women returning from war denied or hid symptoms of PTSD. The VA wants to help address this condition and treat it early. The sooner treatment starts, the less the individual and his/her family suffers. PTSD may not strike every warrior returning from war but certainly some elements of it are likely present simply because of what is experienced in war. No one can serve in wartime and not be affected in ways that hurt deeply inside. Please get help or get help for your spouse suffering from PTSD.

If you are not yet receiving VA benefits, please see Molly Blog 26 on getting your first assessment for services. If you need help now, please call the VA Crises hotline at 1-800-273-8255. (See Blog 17 for more information.)

Post your Comments:

What trick does your dog do to keep you from observing bad behavior? Please share your comments below. 

About the blogger

Dr. Penelope “Penny” Culbreth-Graft is a retired city manager and graduate professor. She lives with her husband, William, and their service dog, Molly, on Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado. She writes, paints, cares for her husband, and spends time with her grandchildren.