Animals have been serving humans for thousands of years, but scientific research indicates that they may also play a key role in healing, especially for those who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. Imagine hearing this from your provider: "Play with your dog for two hours and call me in the morning."
Research by Associate Professor Cheryl A. Krause-Parello, PhD, RN, may lead to just that.
Krause-Parello studies animal-assisted intervention (AAI) and is founder and director of Canines Providing Assistance to Wounded Warriors (C-PAWW), a new initiative at the CU College of Nursing that supports military and veterans’ health and education in Colorado, with the aim of becoming the most military-supportive state in the country.
Krause-Parello became interested in AAI during her doctoral studies at Rutgers University. Her academic advisor told her that she needed to find a topic she was passionate about in order to construct a successful dissertation. While lying in the sun, looking down at Samantha, her beloved dachshund, she thought, "You are the one who is going to get me through my PhD program."
Her husband, a Marine veteran, inspired the military connection. Krause-Parello was, in her words, "too old to serve" but she wanted to give back. "I believe these projects represent a small token of my gratitude and are a way to give back to the military community that has sacrificed for our freedom."
She has since studied AAI in relation to veterans’ health, geriatric health and loneliness, and traumatic stress disorder in child sex abuse survivors. Krause- Parello is currently directing research with the palliative care team at the Veteran’s Administration’s Eastern Colorado Healthcare System. Vital signs, several stress biomarkers found in saliva, and qualitative data are being measured in veterans receiving AAI and in a control group without AAI.
She is also an associate investigator for "Working Dogs for Wounded Warriors: Effects of Animal-Assisted Therapy on PTSD". This project, based at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, is investigating the biobehavorial and psychobiologic interface among animal-assisted therapy and stress indicators, salivary cortisol, alpha-amylase and IgA, blood pressure, and pulse rates in wounded warriors.
Expanding opportunities for health care education is the next step. "With increasingly high rates of military post-war service-related disabilities, interprofessional care teams are needed in their recovery process," says Krause-Parello. C-PAWW has hosted several educational events related to military veteran’s health and participated at university and community events to raise awareness. Krause-Parello also speaks nationally on AAI and related topics.
In addition to research and educational pursuits, C-PAWW is fully invested in establishing community partnerships. The team is already working with CU Denver's Veteran Student Services, Pets for Vets and Warrior Canine Connection, and is seeking additional ways to connect.
"These organizations are important local and national resources for veterans’ health," she says. "In the future, we would like to become an overarching link to AAI and well-being resources for the military community."
"The veteran and military populations in the United States are expanding. As a health care community, we need to understand the impact that service to our country has on our servicemen, servicewomen and their families," Krause-Parello says. "Using research, educational programs and community networks, we are dedicated to advancing veterans and military health. It is our vision that the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus be seen by health care professionals, veterans, military and their caregivers as setting this standard of care."
The mission of C-PAWW is to advance interdisciplinary research, education and practice protocols for wounded warriors and veterans through the development of evidence-based and restorative interventions, to support military-related health initiatives by building community partnerships, to investigate therapeutic interventions that positively influence health outcomes and to emphasize system planning and protocols of care development for the armed forces.