ST. PETER’S: Volunteers at the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 47 have put their money down to assist veterans struggling with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) by supporting a unique program that matches service dogs with soldiers.
“We had a little money this year, so we’re helping three veterans get back to their lives,” said Sheldon O’Brien, the public relations officer for Branch 47. “We’re thrilled to do that for the veterans and their families.”
O’Brien was introduced to the Paws Fur Thought program during a legion conference in St. John’s, Newfoundland. The program matches veterans who have PTSD with service dogs to help the soldiers get back out in their community. Having a dog necessitates getting out of the house while offering a sense of companionship.
Matching a veteran with a dog through the program is not cheap. It costs $5,500 to train the animal and match him with a veteran.
“These dogs are trained in Kansas at a maximum security jail by the inmates,” O’Brien said. “They go through a pairing program through Paws Fur Though out of Halifax, and once they get paired, they [the veterans] have to go to Kansas for five or six days. They meet the inmates once in a designated area.”
Though the dogs have been trained, making sure the veterans and dogs are a good match is important. “Pairing” is what the process is called.
The first $5,500 donated by Branch 47 resulted in a veteran from Sydney being paired with a service dog. That animal, O’Brien said, was trained by a prisoner serving three life sentences but, when saying goodbye to the dog, the convict was crying his eyes out.
Indeed, having prisoners interact with the animals is a way of helping the convicts have a sense of purpose and, in some cases, help with their rehabilitation.
“We did that one, and we had another chunk of money so we said we’d give for two more,” O’Brien said. “So we gave a cheque for $11,000. It’s going to a good cause.”
The money was presented to Kim Gingell, the intake coordinator for Paws Fur Thought, and she told O’Brien that one of the dogs would be paired with a veteran from the Inverness area. The pairing will take place in March or April.
O’Brien said he was in contact with the president of the Inverness legion, and all indications are the dog will make a huge impact in the veteran’s life.
“The first thing he said to me was that you just saved a veteran’s life,” O’Brien said.
Most of the money donated by the legion came through the Poppy Campaign.
Anyone wishing to support Paws Fur Thought can visit the group’s Web site at: www.pawsfurthought.com.