The Comfort Dog Project.

​Northern Uganda is one of the most impoverished places on earth, where people are suffering not only from poverty but also from war trauma. The BIG FIX Uganda uses the powerful healing power of dog companionship to help war trauma survivors as part of a program of psycho-social rehabilitation.

Dogs in need of good homes are rehabilitated by our team, temperament tested and spayed/neutered. They then are placed with war trauma survivors selected to be part of The Comfort Dog Project. The guardians make a lifetime commitment to their dogs, live with and care for their dogs, and participate in a weekly training program. Upon graduation, the dog-guardian teams become project ambassadors – visiting villages and schools to:

  • educate others about the importance of being kind to animals
  • teach others how to use positive reinforcement training techniques
  • to serve as testimony of the healing power of human-dog bonds.

Northern Uganda is an area still recovering from twenty years of war between the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and the Ugandan government. The war devastated Northern Uganda’s families and communities. The economy of the region collapsed. Most residents lost their homes and possessions and were forced to live in camps for more than 10 years. Children were abducted and forced to carry out carnage, women and girls raped and held as sex slaves, and many people were brutally murdered.

Although there is now peace in the region, internal wars are still being waged and lost. Tens of thousands of survivors–with no social and mental health support–struggle to cope with anxiety, loneliness, and despair and a host of caustic psychic and moral wounds that constitute post- traumatic stress disorder. It has been estimated by mental health professionals that 7 in 10 people in Northern Uganda have been traumatically affected by the war. The rates of suicide are high because war trauma survivors have not received help in dealing with their psychological injuries.

The Comfort Dog Project s designed to fill this psycho-social therapeutic void by providing professional trauma counseling in conjunction with training in how to care for, teach and create a solid dog-guardian bond as a way to further reduce the symptoms of PTSD.

Everyone who has loved a dog knows that dogs can have a profound impact on our lives. We also know that dogs can help people recover from trauma. As explained by Meg Daley Olmert in her book Made for Each Other: The Biology of the Human-Animal Bond (DaCapo, 2009), canine companionship causes a chemical reaction in our brains that can reduce fear and anxiety.

Thirty years of research has shown Animal Assisted Interventions (AAI) improve a wide range of physiological and psychological outcomes. Recently, companion dog therapies have become widely used as complementary interventions to relieve the symptoms of combat-related traumatic stress. The Warrior Canine Connection is one such therapy program that is currently being offered to service members with PTSD at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Fort Belvoir, and the Menlo Park Veterans Administration Hospital. Since 2011, over 500 Warrior-trainers have experienced a reduction in their PTSD symptoms through participation in the nurturing-based training methods used to create WCC’s mobility and social support service dogs. (Yount et al 2011). The success of the WCC program has lead the Department of Defence to fund research into the neurological basis of the anti-stress/prosocial benefits reported in participants of the WCC program. The Comfort Dog Project will incorporate similar nurturing, dog training/bonding methods to build the dog-guardian bonds that can provide relief from the post traumatic effects of war in Northern Uganda.

The Comfort Dog Project provides therapeutic support to three groups: LRA former abductees, UPDF veterans, and war-affected community members.

The above article first published on thebigfixuganda.org.