Canine compassion for veterans diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Some special dogs visit the Royal Canadian Legion's regional HQ in Cloverdale

War veterans and their Vancouver Island Compassion Dogs include

SURREY — Seated at the Royal Canadian Legion’s B.C./Yukon Command office in Cloverdale, Jean petted his yellow Lab, Tui, and was eager to show off his tattoo.

“In my darkest moments I searched for a hand, but instead I found a paw,” are the words prominently inked on his left arm, which held a leash for one of five Vancouver Island Compassion Dogs in the room.

The program matches war veterans diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) with dogs that help them cope with life after the hell of combat.

On Thursday (Nov. 3), Jean was among five war veterans who ferried their way from Vancouver Island to the Legion’s regional headquarters, on 58th Avenue, to tell their stories to the Now.

They were there with Barb Ashmead, CEO and founder of the Qualicum Beach-based Compassion Dogs, to also pick up a $60,000 cheque, the latest donation to the program from the Legion Foundation.

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The money will help train more service dogs and their war-veteran handlers as part of the year-long VICD program.

“Our job is to make sure they’re a safe and confident team, and that wherever they go – the grocery store, out for a walk, riding a bus – they can handle it and work together,” Ashmead said. “That comes with a lot of work and a lot of training.”

Ashmead introduced the veterans to the Now by their first names only, and requested that no questions about their combat history be asked.

“That can trigger flashbacks,” she noted.

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Bob held a leash for Morgan, a Border Collie cross retriever, as he talked about the bond he’s developed with the dog.

“There are times I thought I’d just pack it up and quit, drive of a cliff type of thing, but it came to the point where I got Barb’s help, who encouraged me not to throw it all away,” said Bob, who wore a red T-shirt with the phrase, “My therapist licks my face,” on the back.

“I was just getting frustrated and having a hard time getting along and getting things done, because my memory’s not that good. Morgan has helped me out a lot and he calms me down.”

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With his dog Sarge, Stephane lives in Victoria. “I never had a dog before, and Sarge makes me go outside for walks, five or six times a day,” Stephane explained. “If I don’t, he starts whining, says it’s time to go visit friends in the park. Sometimes I don’t put his red vest on and that allows him to just be a dog, play time. The vest is his uniform, like people in the military, and when the uniform is on, it’s work time, and when it’s not, it’s fun time.”

Ashmead nodded in agreement.

“If you took the vests off these dogs right now, they’d probably be running around the office here,” she said. “They know the difference.”

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Stephane said he and Sarge help each other.

“Sometimes I have nightmares and he also has nightmares, so we kind of keep each other in line, even though he helps me more than I help him,” Stephane said.

With the guidance and mentorship of B.C. Guide Dog Services, the Compassion Dogs program was founded four years ago.

The cost to train each veteran-dog team is around $15,000, for expenses including leashes, dog food, fuel costs, vet fees, obedience training and everything else.

“Our five-year plan is to raise enough money to get a house in the area, in Qualicum, where the (veterans) can come in and stay for two weeks for training, in groups of four,” Ashmead said.

tom.zillich@thenownewspaper.com

See video below from Shaw TV in Nanaimo.

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