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Military Dog Recovers from PTSD

Studies estimate that up to 30 percent of the men and women who return from war struggle with symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD.

The intense conditions of war can leave a devastating impression -- apparently even on dogs that serve our country.

"Early Show" Resident Veterinarian Dr. Debbye Turner Bell reported the story of Gina, a German shepherd that went to Iraq in 2009.

When she left, Gina was a strong, confident military explosive detection dog. When she came back, Bell said, she was a mess.

In 2009, she served a six month tour of duty in Iraq. The military routinely deploys dogs like Gina to combat zones where they serve on the front lines, protecting soldiers from hidden dangers. It's a dangerous job. And left Gina traumatized.

Master Sgt. Eric Haynes, kennel master of the 21st Security Forces Squadron, told CBS News, "When she came back, she was scared of just about everything. Anything that made a noise, she didn't want anything to do with. If you took her in a building, she'd try to hide in a corner or in a closet or she'd go hide underneath a desk if anybody was in the room."

Haynes, Gina's handler before she was deployed to Iraq, believes Gina's fear stems from one harrowing event.

Haynes said, "Well, while she was going out to one of the patrol areas, they were goin' out to-- raid some-- some facilities that had-- they thought had insurgents in it. One of their vehicles in the convoy was hit by an I.E.D."

Gina had no physical injuries, but the impact left her shell-shocked.

Haynes explained, "I mean, before she left, she was happy. She liked going out. She liked playing. She liked being around people. And once she came back, she was terrified of everything."

Haynes said he believes she had PTSD.

He said, "PTSD comes from a dramatic event, which she obviously encountered."

Ten years ago, Gina might have been put down. Another casualty of war, but Haynes felt an obligation to make Gina whole again.

Haynes said, "These dogs, they're willing to give their lives for you. They don't ask for anything, you know? Some food, some water, little bit of petting. And they're the most reliable person on the planet. You can't get that from anywhere else."

So Haynes started an intense program to bring Gina back from the brink, getting her used to simply hearing noises and being around people again.

Haynes explained, "I started takin' her to staff meetings so it was a small group of people. You know, five or six people in a room, have them pet, give her treats. And once she got enough confidence that she could be around some people, I started ... walk(ing) her around a lot of people, have somebody go ahead in front of me, have them hand out treats so that she could, you know, go up and meet people and realize that everybody's not out to get me."

It took six months working with Gina up to five hours a day. Now Gina is back to her old self.

Haynes said, "She's turned into a dog again. It's outstanding."

Just last month Gina was re-certified for active duty. Her new handler, Staff Sgt. Melinda Miller, has full confidence in her canine partner.

Bell asked, "How much do you trust her?"

Miller replied, "Oh, I trust this dog with my life. I trust this dog on everything."

As for Haynes he says he's "ecstatic" with her recovery.

"I'm proud that we made it to the point that we're at now," Haynes said. "I mean there's nowhere up but up from here as far as I'm concerned."

Bell added on "The Early Show" animals experience anxiety from fears and from traumatic events, such as dogs that have been in abusive situations and come away with fears and phobias.

However, the dogs used for military service, Bell said, often do not have this kind of issue.

"The dogs that they select to be military working dogs go through a very extensive screening process," she said. "They're looking for particular character traits and personality and temperament. And these are usually the dogs that aren't afraid of anything, so they tend to be less affected. So it's a little surprising that this one was affected so much."

Though Gina has been re-certified, it is unclear whether she will ever be able to return to a combat zone. Haynes plans to work with her for at least another year, and re-evaluate her then.

Bell said, "Something chemically happens in the brain in these cases are humans and with dogs. However, I believe she can be resocialized and used in situations. They've done the right thing with her."