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Service dogs heal invisible wounds of war
Sooke News Mirror - 11/7/2017
If angels take dog form, Ace is one of them.
He predicts panic attacks, warns of migraine headaches, and greatly improves the life of a veteran suffering from war's psychological aftermath.
Greg Alkerton said Ace is so in tune with his condition that he detects symptoms before he can, reducing the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder.
"He has added to my strength and his gentle nature has opened my heart and mind … as long as Ace is with me, I know that I am just fine," he said.
Alkerton, along with fellow veteran Stephane Marcotte, visited Sooke schools Friday with their dogs, as part of a Remembrance Day teaching program.
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Sufferers of PTSD commonly experience flashbacks to extreme trauma, panic attacks in crowded places, and nightmares that can manifest into night terrors.
The dogs used by Alkerton and Marcotte are supplied the Vancouver Island Compassion Dogs Society .
The organization equips veterans who struggle with stress injuries like PTSD with the support of a service dog that's specially-trained to help them deal with the associated symptoms.
After applying and being accepted to the program, veterans are gradually paired up with a dog and embark on a year-long training program towards receiving certification.
Twice a week, the pair meets with VICD's professional trainers and a mental health clinical practitioner for training sessions that foster everything from basic obedience skills to specific tactics that enable the dog to help the veteran navigate his unique set of struggles and symptoms.
"Most importantly, training as a team creates a deep bond between the dog and veteran that in turn translates into ongoing, unconditional support," said Barb Ashmead, director of administration, funding and sponsorship for the society.
The program costs about $28,000 per dog, offered at no cost to the participants. VICD receives support from the Royal Canadian Legion's B.C. Yukon Command and private funders. There's no government funding.
The dogs are donated to the society from the B.C. Guide Dogs Services when they're 14 to 16 months old.
"They don't make it as a guide dog because they're not good for walking from Point A to Point B, but the veterans aren't blind so they work out to be perfect as PTSD service dogs," Ashmead said.
The dogs remain with the veterans for about 10 years.
Alkerton is retiring Ace soon and is now training Charlie, both Black labs.
Ashmead said the service dogs are in high demand on the Island: 18 people have graduated, 16 people going through the program and a year-long wait list.
"The more donations we get, the more dogs we can bring in. We have the training staff, and we have the dogs. We just need the finance to be able to do it all," she said.
For more information on the Vancouver Island Compassion Dogs Society, please go online to vicompassiondogs.ca .