Stepping Up for Our Vets

by Omar Sultan · SP Web Segment · United States

I ran across a Facebook post that left me deeply unhappy. A military veteran (vet) took his own life after his PTSD service dog died unexpectedly. PTSD, which means post-traumatic stress disorder, can be caused by experiencing or witnessing a severe trauma or life-threatening event.

Common symptoms of PTSD include recurring memories or nightmares, sleeplessness, loss of interest, or survivor's guilt. After doing some research, I learned that 22 vets unnecessarily take their own lives every day.

PTSD dogs provide comfort and stress relief and help a vet cope with trauma. But the cost of a dog can leave a vet $20,000 or more out-of-pocket, plus a waiting period of 2-4 years. After finding this out, I felt that between the resources of the Cisco community and the dedication of Cisco's vet Employee Resource Organization (ERO), that there must be a way to help.

“Research shows that positive social interactions with dogs may offer a safe, effective, and relatively inexpensive way to increase endogenous levels of the neurochemical oxytocin and other important anti-stress agents in humans.”
- The United States Army Medical Department Journal
Canine Assisted Therapy in Military Medicine

After some research, I found Alpha K9, a vet-owned 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that we could partner with. The founder, Kevin Cameron, has trained military working dogs for the army and is a nationally recognized expert on service dogs. As a non-profit, they were able to provide dogs (the majority are rescue dogs) to a vet for about $3,000. This was an exciting discovery. So I developed a proposal to raise funds to help Alpha K9 get more dogs into the hands of vets.

Employees at Cisco are encouraged to share their expertise and support their communities through volunteering and donations. This makes it easy for employees like me to get involved in initiatives that we are passionate about. I took this initiative to the vet ERO leadership, and they were very supportive. 

I felt we needed a spotlight event to kick off the program, so we raised the funds to provide Teddy–the first dog sponsored by Cisco. On February 2, 2015 Gary Moore, our president and COO, a vet himself, presented Teddy on behalf of Cisco to a vet named Justin, in what he described as a humbling experience.

Omar, Kevin, Gary and Justin with our first Cisco sponsored dog Teddy

Our biggest challenge in the vet ERO over the last year has been making the time to keep the ball moving. Everyone has worked tirelessly to get the program up and running.

Gary Moore, President & COO at Cisco with Teddy the first Cisco-sponsored PTSD dog.

The visibility from our first event will be used to kick off a yearlong campaign to raise funds to provide more dogs to our vets. The campaign will help raise awareness of the program and encourage vets in need to get connected.

It may seem trite, but I really do believe that one person can make a difference. For me personally, it was about perseverance. Often people want to help but don't know how, so creating a focal point helps those folks make a difference.

It is important that we respect and care for each other, not for some fancy reason—it's just the right thing to do. And Cisco supports these values through our culture.

If you would like to get involved in this program, you can find more information on the Alpha K9 website.

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