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Wounded Warriors Canada PTSD service dog program launched

olunteer puppy raisers are seen with PTSD service-dogs-to-be before the start of a news conference where Wounded Warriors Canada unveiled the WWC PTSD service dog program in
TIM KROCHAK • THE CHRONICLE HERALD
olunteer puppy raisers are seen with PTSD service-dogs-to-be before the start of a news conference where Wounded Warriors Canada unveiled the WWC PTSD service dog program in TIM KROCHAK • THE CHRONICLE HERALD - The Chronicle Herald

Eric Chafe’s life has changed thanks to his PTSD service dog Tazz.

The 42-year-old veteran of all three branches of the Canadian Forces was in a pretty dark place several years ago. Suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder after nearly 23 years of service, with tours in Bosnia, the Persian Gulf, Afghanistan, Haiti and Libya, he found relief when the German shepherd came into his life.

“I don’t even know a begin date (of symptoms),” Chafe said. “I was officially diagnosed in 2011. And then (did) treatments until 2014, (then) medically released. And now I continue my treatment, just on the civilian side.”

Tazz, now nearly three years old, helped him reconnect with his wife and two children.

“We do things together now. She’s made quite a difference in all points of my quality of life, for sure.”

Wounded Warriors Canada wants to help provide that same relief to many more affected veterans, first responders and their families through a national PTSD service dog program, launched on Tuesday at the Halifax Central Library.

The program provides immediate funding of $300,000 to facilitate the placement of at least 25 fully-trained service dogs in 2018 with veterans or first responders and their families affected by PTSD.

The organization will vet dog suppliers to be sure the dogs are trained to the highest standard and will monitor and track the progress of each pairing. The service dogs will all wear vests with the Wounded Warriors Canada badge.

It also marks an appeal campaign for donations to continue to fund the program.

The program also brings together national partners in the effort, including Paws Fur Thought, an initiative to pair veterans with service dogs, Canadian Intervention and Assistance Dogs (CIAD), a Nova Scotia school that offers intervention and assistance dog training, Chien Togo in Quebec and others across Canada.

Medric Cousineau, one of the co-founders of Paws Fur Thought, will assist Wounded Warriors Canada with the program. He said the launch of the program will have lasting effects.

“This will allow us to start long-term strategic planning in a space that has been desperately and markedly void of that,” he said. “Beyond the immediacy of the 25 to 30 families that will be changed by today’s announcement, the framework that will be put in place will allow us to replicate (it) in the future.”

Cousineau, a decorated veteran himself, relies on the help of his own service dog, Thai, to deal with the stress and other effects of PTSD related to a high-stakes rescue mission he was part of in 1986. He gottogether with Thai in 2012. The yellow lab is specially trained to sense when Cousineau is stressed and reacts to prevent anxiety attacks, stop night terrors and help with other symptoms.

The retired air force captain’s medals include Star of Courage, Canadian Forces Decoration and Knight of the Order of St. George.

Chafe tells of how Cousineau and Thai had an impact on him during a fishing trip.

“At that time, I didn’t have Tazz,” Chafe said. “We walked in and Thai jumped up on me, because I was stressed out. That night — I didn’t really sleep at nights at that point — Medric woke up and Thai was standing on my chest. So that’s how that week went.”

A year later, after Chafe partnered with Tazz, the fishing trip was a different story.

“Medric was waking up because I wasn’t. I was out cold. So since I’ve got Tazz, it’s been mostly sleepful nights. Not everybody sleeps all the time, but it made a huge difference.”

Originally from Newfoundland, Chafe started basic training at age 17. He started in army, then transferred to the navy and then again to the air force.

The Hubley resident said without Tazz he wouldn’t be able to come to an event like this because it would cause too much stress.

“But, because of Tazz, I’m doing this. I’m kind of forced to, in a way. You have to walk your puppy. You have to take them out to use the bathroom and stuff. Tazz has been a game-changer, for sure.”

Phil Ralph, national program director with Wounded Warriors Canada, said one of the important aspects of the program is to go beyond the current fractured landscape of the service dog scene in Canada and move forward with a national program that provides a reliable, trusted situation.

“Most importantly, that these dogs will change and save lives given into the homes of veterans and first responders and their families that are struggling with their mental health,” Ralph said.

He had served as a chaplain in the Canadian Forces for 25 years, having to bear the sad duty of notifying families when someone was killed in duty overseas.

“Near the end of my career, I was going to the door a number of times for people who had come back from the field of conflict (and) hadn’t been able to deal with whatever they saw, and sadly took their own lives.”

But his face lights up when he speaks about how the service dogs can help people by helping them reconnect socially and give them confidence.

“And if they’re having difficulty, the dog knows what to do and how to calm them down and how to ground them. And each one is trained and paired specially to whatever that veteran or that first responder is going through. It’s just amazing.”

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