Rhode Island Monthly Health & Wellness 2016 : Page 7

Friends, Helpers and Healers Many people feel healthier and happier when they caress, brush and play with their pets. But some individuals with physical and/ or emotional disabilities rely on their animals in ways that most of us can’t envision. By Nancy Kirsch A Thinkstock Photos lifelong dog lover and career military man, John DiRaimo never anticipated that one special dog would rescue him. After several earlier deployments, DiRaimo found his last tour of duty — thirteen months in Iraq — especially challenging. Not only did he incur back injuries and partial hearing loss, he witnessed too many casualties, both civilian and military, to simply carry on. “I couldn’t take the nightmares of what I’d seen,” he says. Back home, DiRaimo drank excessively, sought combat’s adrenaline rush and withdrew from vir-tually everyone. At his lowest point, his girlfriend found him cradling his service revolver in one hand and a bottle of pills in the other. Diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, DiRaimo began to heal with inpatient psychiatric help from the Veterans Administration. Through a chance encounter, he found NEADS (National Education for Assistance Dog Services, also known as Dogs for Deaf and Disabled Americans), a Massachu-setts-based nonprofi t organization that trains a wide range of assistance dogs to help individuals with different disabilities or impairments. “NEADS pups are put into the Prison Pups Program [at Rhode Island’s Adult Correctional Institutions and other area prisons] at around three-months-old,” explains Colleen Whelpley, a long-time weekend puppy raiser in Providence. “Medium-security prisoners [at the ACI] are responsible for their care, feeding and training, Monday through Friday, twenty-four/seven.” Volunteer weekend puppy raisers expose the puppies to diverse experiences and reinforce what | | Continued on page 6 Rhode Island Monthly | Guide to Health and Wellness 2016 5

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