By Tristan Marks
Dogs can be more than just man’s best friend, sometimes they’re the very thing that keeps a person going.
Service dogs that help the blind and physically disabled are a well known part of life for many, but for veterans who suffer from PTSD, specially-trained service dogs can make the difference between being trapped at home or going out and re-engaging with the world.
In August, four Canadian veterans walked through Grimsby, representing Veteran’s Elite Canine (VEC), a newly formed charity organization formed in July of this year that is dedicated to helping provide service dogs to veterans who suffer from PTSD.
VEC founder and chair Cindy Weir said she was inspired to start the organization after experiencing firsthand the difference her own service dog, Gracie, made in her life. Weir and Gracie were paired together, at no cost to Weir, thanks to a US-based charity, the Pawsitive Love Foundation. VEC aims to provide the same service from this side of the border.
“We’re trying to gain more exposure to get more dogs out to veterans with PTSD,” said Weir. “I can tell you, it is life-changing to receive one of these dogs.”
Unsurprisingly, PTSD service dogs require very specialized training.
“PTSD is different for everybody,” said Weir.
She explained that these dogs are trained to detect when a veteran “gets amped” and how to act. Reactions include “herding” their owner toward an exit during a panic attack in a public place, waking an owner up from nightmares, putting pressure down “like a blanket” during a panic attack at home, etc.
This specialized training requires specialized trainers, and as such VEC has teamed up with Baden K9, a dog-trainer based in St. Anns. Baden K9 has over 40 years of experience with training dogs for both the military and police departments. They also have experience with training PTSD dogs and have sent their canines to veterans across the globe.
To stay close to VEC’s dog trainer, Weir moved from London to Grimsby and now bases the charity out of this town.
“We’re excited to be in Grimsby, it’s a wonderful place,” she said.
VEC requires donations from the public to be able to provide these dogs to veterans on waiting lists, free of charge. A fully-trained PTSD dog costs $35,000.
Those interested in helping support VEC and its mission can donate through its website, veteranselitecanine.ca. Every dollar goes towards training a service dog.
Weir added that VEC is always looking volunteers, especially someone with administrative or financial experience.