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How Dogs Are Lending A Paw To Uganda’s Traumatized War Veterans

Charles Watmon and his dog, Ogen Rwot, in a residence they share in Gulu, Uganda.

Julian Hattem for NPR


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Julian Hattem for NPR

These days, Charles Watmon shares his bed — a few sheets of thin, white froth on a petrify building of his thatched-roof hovel — with his dog.

It’s not much. But to Watmon, 44, and his caramel-colored mutt, it’s some-more than adequate for a good night’s nap — and a acquire change from his past.

During a march of scarcely a decade, Watmon fought on both sides of Uganda’s heartless polite wars — initial with a insurgent organisation famous as a Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), afterwards with a government.

The fight finished some-more than a decade ago, after a cruel insurgent personality Joseph Kony and his shrinking company were chased low into executive Africa.

Yet a scars remain.

Watmon says he saw and did things during that decade during fight that he will never forget. He had flashbacks. He panicked during shrill noises, lashed out during others and contemplated suicide.

He also detected he was HIV-positive in 2009, nearby a finish of his time with a Ugandan military. His mom and dual children subsequently died from AIDS.

Then he got a dog named Ogen Rwot.

“She is like my sister,” Watmon says.

Ogen Rwot, whose name means “Trust in a Lord” in Acholi, is a therapy dog.

Watmon and Ogen Rwot lay subsequent to his mom in a yard of his family’s compound.

Julian Hattem for NPR


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Julian Hattem for NPR

Watmon and Ogen Rwot lay subsequent to his mom in a yard of his family’s compound.

Julian Hattem for NPR

Emerging scholarship and anecdotal justification advise that combining connectors with dogs competence assistance people redeem from mishap — survivors of mass shootings or veterans returning from war, for example. A recent examination of studies showed that a use can lead to “reduced depression, PTSD symptoms and anxiety” — nonetheless it was remarkable that “further investigate is essential.”

But a diagnosis is many unheard of outward of a Western universe — and is quite novel in Uganda, where many people fear or dread dogs.

Ogen Rwot came to Watmon by a Comfort Dog Project in northern Uganda that pairs dogs with former fighters and others aggrieved by a war.

The plan was started by a male who had suffered from postwar mishap himself. Francis Okello Oloya was 12 when he struck an unexploded explosve with a hoe when digging in a family garden. Fragments of steel and timber sliced by his eyeballs, blinding him for life.

While psychological diagnosis is singular in Uganda and he was but central diagnosis, Okello says he suffered from post-traumatic highlight commotion for years. He was ashamed of his fears, generally during night when he indispensable to arise people adult to lead him to a outside latrines during a boarding propagandize he attended.

He says that dual ensure dogs charged with safeguarding a propagandize eventually began to beam him to and from a bathrooms.

“These dogs helped me and we got relieved that I’m no problem to anyone,” he says. “And we grown a clever bond with a dual dogs.”

Okello, now 29, complicated to turn a village psychologist. Though there were obstacles due to his blindness, he perceived books in Braille during his drill and graduated from Makerere University in Uganda’s capital, Kampala.

In 2015, desirous by a bond he had shaped with a ensure dogs during his school, he started a Comfort Dog Project for people pang from basin or post-traumatic highlight commotion in postwar Uganda.

The module interviews intensity participants, afterwards matches them with dogs, provides training and offers organisation therapy sessions to plead how they’re feeling and their attribute with their dogs.

They face singular challenges. Few Ugandans have dogs as pets — and many are fearful of dogs, that are mostly used as ensure animals. American therapy dog programs try to span people with dogs that have a repute for friendliness, like labradors or golden retrievers. The Comfort Dog Project has to use whatever animals people present — generally possibly since a dog is neglected or since it has been abandoned. The plan is connected with a usually veterinary hospital in this partial of a country, that has turn a resource, related them to neglected dogs.

To brand participants and get a word out, Okello talks with village leaders and spreads information by spontaneous networks.

Each member undergoes several weeks of conversing before being interconnected with a dog. Then they’re given pet reserve like a control and dog play and 5 months of weekly sessions to learn a dogs to follow commands like “sit” and “stay.”

There are 8 people now in training with a dogs.

American Sarah Schmidt, whose U.S.-based nonprofit runs a veterinary hospital called a Big Fix in Gulu, Uganda, helped Okello get a module adult and using — and helped him find initial funding.

Most of a donors are Americans, Schmidt says, and have also given to her group, Central Valley Coalition for Animals. Last year, a Comfort Dog Project perceived grants from a William and Charlotte Parks Foundation and a Alice Morgan-Wright/Edith J. Goode Trust. But, Schmidt says, many of a appropriation comes from her possess private estate. In addition, 3 pet supply companies yield apparatus and a New Zealand tutor has given giveaway entrance to his training library.

“For each slot, we have 10 people who would wish to be selected,” Schmidt says around email.

Lucy Adoch is a believer. She was 14 when she was abducted by a L.R.A. She was given a gun and forced into matrimony with a insurgent commander, she says, a conditions that competence be improved described as sex slavery. She spent 5 years with a L.R.A.

Post-war, she had nightmares and problem sleeping for some-more than a decade after she escaped.

Then she found a Comfort Dog Project and, shortly after, came Sadik, a grey dog with brief legs and a pinched face.

Adoch, 39, is a tailor — and Sadik sits during her feet as she tends to her sewing appurtenance day after day.

“My father started to protest that infrequently we will be articulate shrill in my dream, job Sadik’s name. we tell him that it’s since we adore Sadik and we play a lot,” she says.

Adoch, like many graduates of a program, comes behind as a tutor for new classes and brings Sadik to a veterinary hospital for checkups. After a new session, they lounged in a fever before Adoch stood adult and started throwing a round for Sadik to chase.

Since Sadik came along, Adoch says, her “nightmares have been replaced.” Now, she says, she “only dreams of personification with Sadik.”

Julian Hattem is a freelance publisher formed in Uganda. Reach him @jmhattem