In a novel initiative, border guarding force ITBP has decided to utilise the services of its retired combat canines as 'therapy dogs' to help in the early recuperation of personnel undergoing medical treatment and also for their specially-abled children.
The challenges of life after retirement for the aged and out-of-service four-legged soldiers has been a subject of concern for various central armed police forces (CAPFs) that deploy about 3,500 dogs for a variety of roles in the internal security domain -- ranging from detecting hidden explosives to sniffing out terrorists and drugs and assault and guard duties.
The issue was also discussed during a recently-held national conference on police canines that was conducted by the newly-created cell for this subject in the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA).
Dogs, at present, who retire from these central forces are usually handed over to animal NGOs or kept at a retirement home within the organisation for post-retirement care.
A first batch of five dogs who have been living in their 'retirement home' at the ITBP national training centre for dogs and animals at Bhanu near Chandigarh have been inducted for a second innings task of being 'therapy dogs'.
Deputy Inspector General (DIG) Sudhakar Natarajan, the veterinary chief of the ITBP, tells PTI that Pooja, Tom, Rambo, Rani and Gravey, who recently retired from active service, are just over 11-years-old and have served in various anti-Naxal operations and counter-insurgency grids of the country along with their handlers accompanying Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) patrols.
"All five dogs have started visiting ITBP hospitals and have given soothing emotional support to patients, that is a welcome break for them from the dreary hospital monotony.
"Also, these dogs have interacted with children with special needs, and the spark seen in their eyes is to be seen to be believed. An immediate connection between the child and dog was remarkable," Natarajan said about the preliminary findings of the new move.
A compliance report submitted by the border force to its administrative department - the Union home ministry - on Thursday said that the force plans to visit local schools, where specially-abled children are taught, with these 'therapy dogs' to spread joy.
The report said the experiment is being watched and analysed.
"Our veteran K9 (canine) heroes have just been deployed as therapy dogs. The response of patients (ITBP troops under treatment in their hospitals) was very encouraging.
"Many are long-term patients and they expressed unalloyed joy in engaging with these dogs in non-verbal communication, purely from the heart. The long term effects on engagement with therapy dogs are being observed," the report said.
DIG Natarajan, the brain behind the move, said the aim of the initiative is to ensure that the canine soldiers who served with sincere dedication in the prime of their age and helped to save numerous lives from potential life threats, are taken care off even in their heydays.
"We are fully committed to looking after our darling veteran hero K9s who have served the nation, and now even in their retired life they are contributing as therapy dogs to give emotional support to patients and special children.
"Since our dogs are highly trained and socialised, they are being used as a supportive therapy to manage autism and other spectral disorders in children," he said.
The DIG, also a veterinarian, said specially-abled children "connect with our furry darlings directly at the organic emotional level, that is not the case with human-to-human interaction, where expectations are involved".
Citing scientific studies, he says it has been proved by research that the very act of petting and having non-verbal, no-strings-attached interaction with a dog increases the dopamine level, reduces stress hormones and improves muscular coordination and hyperactivity in special kids.
ITBP spokesperson Vivek Kumar Pandey said they are looking forward to further deepen the human and 'therapy dogs' bond and while the force has taken the first step in this direction, it expects services of more such dog-soldiers can be utilised in this domain.
The ITBP is about 90,000 personnel strong and its primary task is to guard the 3,488 km-long Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China apart from rendering a variety of security duties in the hinterland.