Veterans With Dogs
You may remember we featured Veterans With Dogs in our DogFest Blog recently. We asked the charity founder, Craig MacLellan, to tell us more about the work they do and explain how you can help. Here, Craig tells us in his own words how he came to set up the charity.
My Story …
I know from my own personal experience how dogs can help veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and other invisible injuries.
Five years after I left the Army, I suffered a major breakdown but it wasn’t until I underwent a week-long assessment at Combat Stress six months later that I was diagnosed with PTSD. After a year of attending sessions, I was invited for a more intensive residential course and was allowed to bring Fudge, my dog, as she was a linchpin to my recovery.
It was at these therapy sessions that we all began to realise the powerful impact a dog could have on those suffering in silence. Not only did Fudge facilitate my therapy but she also helped others in need by seeking out the person suffering the most and sitting quietly beside them, allowing them to stroke her.
It was clear to all that Fudge was having a profoundly positive affect so, when I was feeling stronger, I researched what services and charities were available. Having found plenty overseas but none in the UK, I set up Veterans With Dogs, with the aim of providing other veterans in need with their own assistance dogs.
I now have my own fully-qualified assistance dog – Boo – who helps me on a daily basis and without whom I couldn’t lead a normal life. If I wake from a nightmare, I shout the word ‘light’ and Boo turns it on. When I sense a panic attack coming on, I have a safe command that means I can kneel down and Boo will jump up and put her paws around my neck, helping calm me down quickly. There are lots of ways in which assistance dogs can help and each one is specially trained to meet the individual needs of their veteran.
Since setting up the charity, we have helped 60 veterans but, inevitably we have a waiting list of many more.
How you can help ….
Last year, to help as many veterans as possible, we launched a puppy sponsorship programme and we already have a number of businesses on board. £1,000 covers the cost of buying the puppy or, for £6,000, companies can pay for the puppy and for it to be trained right up until the point at which it’s handed over to a veteran.
Obviously, these amounts are out of reach for most people but we are looking for volunteers to be puppy socialisers.
Puppy socialisers play a vital role in the development of assistance dogs: they spend countless hours caring for, teaching, and socialising the pups in the real world in their own homes.
They also take our puppies everywhere - to work, out to eat, on trips, and even shopping. This real-world training imitates the experiences that our puppies need in order to be successful assistance dogs. A well socialised puppy will have a great advantage when it comes to being placed and sets out on formal training.
The puppy-raising experience requires a great deal of commitment, time, energy, and focus. It’s an unforgettable and rewarding experience, and most puppy socialisers choose to participate again and again.
One of the hardest parts is saying goodbye! Puppies socialisers start with an 8 week-old puppy and foster the dog from anything between six to 12 months until an appropriate client match is made. The puppies are then ‘placed’ with their veteran and begin “school” for advanced training, with one of our many expert trainers who volunteer with us.
Of course, there’s lots of other ways that you can help – be it raising money to donating your time – and we’re always incredibly grateful for any and all support we get as it means we can help more deserving veterans.
For more information about Veterans With Dogs or to make a donation, visit: http://www.veteranswithdogs.org.uk