Soldiers returning from war face untold hardships and challenges. They must learn to readjust to society and rebuild their lives after enduring unimaginable trauma. While such reintegration is difficult in developed countries, it is nearly impossible in developing nations. Veterans in developing nations return to their homes, with many enduring post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). They do not have access to the medical interventions and therapeutic treatments that those in other countries do, and they must find alternative methods of healing.
In post-civil war Uganda, an East African nation racked by decades of conflict, suffering former soldiers are finding comfort in the warm and furry cuddles of therapy dogs. While therapy dogs are common in the treatment of PTSD in Western countries, the concept is still new in Uganda. Culturally, dogs are not accepted as the cute and friendly companions that many in the West hold dear. Many Ugandans are afraid of dogs, and they do not consider them to be suitable pets. Fortunately, this attitude is changing as more people are exposed to the healing qualities of spending time with and caring for dogs.
Started in 2015, the Comfort Dog Project pairs those traumatized by war (both soldiers and civilians) with the peaceful and loving presence of dogs. Participants are interviewed and matched with dogs, and they receive training in how to care for their dogs. They are provided with the supplies to take care of their dogs, such as a leash and water bowl. Additionally, they attend group therapy sessions where they can discuss their relationships with their dogs. A local non-profit veterinary clinic provides care for the dogs. Dogs are donated to the program because they are unwanted or abandoned; the program provides them with a new future, too.
The NGO was started by a community psychologist, Francis Okello Oloya, who was blinded at the age of 12 by a stray bomb. Years of struggle, depression, and PTSD followed the terrible incident, until he recovered with the help of two dogs at the boarding school that he attended. Determined to make a difference for others, he eventually started the Comfort Dog Project as a way of bringing peace and calm to those experiencing the agonizing symptoms of PTSD.
Many Ugandans are interested in receiving therapy dogs. With time and patience, the healing powers of dogs will reach all of those afflicted with PTSD, returning joy to their lives.