Knoxville study aims to help soldiers suffering from PTSD with animal therapy


KNOXVILLE (WATE) – A U.S. Army veterinarian is studying the effects of animal interactions at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital to show how soldiers could benefit from therapy dogs.

Taylor Opel is a an active duty military member, currently studying for her graduate degree at the University of Tennessee. Her study tracks how a child’s hospital stay can be impacted by something as simple as a visit with an animal.

“They love the dogs. They look forward to the dogs. These children are in here for multiple procedures,” said Opel.

Volunteers from the group H.A.B.I.T, or “Human Animal Bond in Tennessee,” spend time with patients undergoing treatment. The emotional benefits were evident after a 10-year-old goldendoodle named Murphy passed through the third floor, but Opel says there needs to be scientific answers to show therapy with animals is beneficial.

“We want to see that drugs are less or we want to see that it lowers heart rate and it lowers blood pressure,” said Opel. “The feel good studies aren’t as strong of evidence as studies that have data and numbers attached to them.”

While children are the subject of the study, Opel is focused on using the research to help her fellow soldiers battle with post traumatic stress disorder.

“I have seen how they need help for their mental health issues when they come back from deployments. So working with this study has given me a lot of skills for when I do go back into the military.”

Opel will return to active duty in May after she graduates. For now, her goal is to continue collecting data to hopefully get funding for a military-run program with therapy dogs. Currently there are about 25 children enrolled in the study. Researchers are hoping to have a total of 70 patients in order to collect enough information for a new program.

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