Funny things happen to you when you become a dog owner.
With a nearly 4 month old chocolate lab teething his way through anything he can get his mouth onto, I now have two sets of clothing. One for dog time and one for people time. My dog pants have wee holes in them where his sharp puppy teeth have caught. The pockets of my dog sweater smell like turkey liver treats because that’s where I keep them when we are training. And…Now I always notice other chocolate labs and of course, their owners.
I was making my way down the aisle in Bosleys to get some more Junior bully sticks for the crocodile back home when my eye caught a gorgeous chocolate lab in the giant tub, waiting patiently for his owner to bathe him.
“Wow, love your dog, how old is he?” I asked, admiring his gentle eyes and the way he kept his eye on her, clearly attentive.
“He’s three now. And yes he is a beauty. He is my compassion dog. ”
There was something in her tone that caught my heart immediately, because I know about PTSD, an often crippling disorder that is not limited to veterans, but also first responders, law enforcement and victims of any traumatic experience. And I know a couple of people who suffer from it.
But I stopped a moment because I really wanted to hear more… but did not want to push. And so we talked about her gorgeous lab…he came to her like a ball of fire he had so much energy, at about 9 months. He didn’t know anything about training and neither did she.
A veteran, she had suffered such severe PTSD symptoms she didn’t leave her house for two years before Hunter entered her life.
Two years. And Hunter changed her life. He was a rescue dog that she was paired up with through Vancouver Island Compassion Dogs, a registered non profit charity that pairs up rescue dogs with veterans who have PTSD. And without this charity, she likely would never have been able to have a service dog like him. They pay for everything from food, to gas money to make the drive to twice weekly training sessions, to leashes… everything she would need to do the program they must both go through for him to receive his badge and vest as her service dog.
There was a lull in the conversation and she pressed her lips together. It was so clearly visible how much Hunter meant to her and suddenly I was a bit overcome with a wave of emotion. I wanted to tell her so much, that it was ok and how proud I was of her ….but I introduced myself and asked her name instead. And as we shook hands I thanked her for her service. It seemed so inadequate considering what she has been through… in her service and yes, since. But I wanted her to know it mattered to me.
We talked some more. About liver treats for training – bit of a laugh there because it turns out her pockets smell like liver too… 🙂 About his time limit for training every day… how much he eats and how I was a bit afraid of how big ours was going to get…and then she gave me a card for the society she found Hunter through. She told me how long of a wait it is for other veterans to get dogs like this across the country, or face trying to pay for them personally to get one ( usually through the US ) And how much these wonderful dogs can do.
” I didn’t want to do the drugs. I didn’t want to take them. I don’t want all that other stuff. I couldn’t leave the house for two years and here I am, talking to you. ”
” It’s amazing” I said: ” And I get that.He is there 24/7 for you. And more effective than that 1-800 number they have…”
“Oh, you know about veterans then, and PTSD..” she said.
Yes, I nodded, I do. And I know we can do much better by them, that’s for sure.
But thank God for places like Vancouver Island Compassion Dogs. Part of what makes it so amazing is that if you get paired with a dog with them, you and the dog must attend the training twice a week in Qualicum Beach for nearly a year. So the training itself forces you to get out of the house. Taking care of the needs of the dog who loves you, gets you out of the house. And all the while… this amazing bond is built between the two that can move mountains…. or enable people who have retreated from life to begin living again.
I don’t know that she noticed, but I have never sucked up tears as much as I did in that brief encounter in Bosleys on Friday…
She told me about a gala they are having to raise funds… there are many people who would love to have a dog and go through this training but its costly and they can always use more funds to help more veterans get paired with more rescue dogs.
I thanked her again… Hunter was waiting patiently for his bath.. and thanked her even more for sharing her story. And I have to say its taken a day to sit and write this because hearing her story, even briefly, left such an impact on me.
I have no idea what she went through and I probably can’t even imagine. But I will never, ever forget the expressions on her face as she shared, as stoic as I think she tried to be. Flashes of pain. Anxiety. But also complete and utter love for the rescue dog who so clearly helped rescue her…
It couldn’t be a more beautiful and perfect pairing and I hope to meet with her again if she would share more of her story. And there are other success stories…You can see photos of other veterans and their dogs here: http://vicompassiondogs.ca/gallery/
The bond between a human and an animal is a unique and beautiful thing because so much of the communication is non verbal. Animals can bring children who don’t respond to others, out of their shells. They can extend the life of our elders who otherwise living alone may simply give up. And dogs can detect the scents people give off when they are under stress or anxiety and respond accordingly, making this kind of pairing one of the most unique and effective therapies out there for many people. They do not analyze,judge or examine. They just love.
Rescued dogs, rescuing veterans.
It’s a good thing.
Vancouver Island Compassion Dogs is having a fundraiser and as of October 24th there were 20 tickets left. If you can’t attend, they would welcome donations of prizes or funds.
You can find their webpage here: http://vicompassiondogs.ca/
And they are on facebook, here:https://www.facebook.com/VICompassionDogs
They can always use cash donations or contact them to find out how you can get involved or assist.