'Saving lives two at a time' - Suffolk veterans supported by service dogs
- Credit: CHARLOTTE BOND
A new hub of Service Dogs UK is encouraging Suffolk veterans to apply for a programme that brings dogs and those suffering from PTSD together.
Launched in Woodbridge last spring, the programme pairs rescue dogs with veterans diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder to become a 24/7 partnership, where the dog is trained to assist the veteran in their daily lives.
Jai Cross, Suffolk hub manager and trainer for Service Dogs UK, said: "We're in the early stages of setting up this region; we work in partnership with Dog's Trust to assess suitable dogs and see if they have potential.
"If I feel they do, we pop them in with what we call our 'fab fosters' and start training them with the fundamentals like basic obedience and settling into a home environment.
"Once we feel they're settled, we invite the foster families and dogs to a twice-weekly training session."
Applications come from armed forces and emergency service personnel who have been clinically diagnosed with PTSD.
"We check that they're in a good position in life to commit to the programme, which can be nine to 12 months long.
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"Then we invite them to come and play with the dog so I can see if there's a natural connection - sometimes it's obvious straight away, sometimes it's a bit more of a slow-burner.
"Then it's time for a sleepover, where the veteran takes the dog home for three nights. It's an adjustment - a new home for the dogs, a new challenge for the veterans.
"The veteran supports the dog, but in doing so this can start having a positive impact. About halfway through the programme, the dog can take more of a supportive role and really make a difference."
Service dogs aren't used in place of therapists - all veterans on the programme have their own routine for therapy - but the recent accreditation from Assistance Dogs International gives Service Dogs UK the same status and standards as Guide Dogs, becoming the first PTSD assistance dog charity to do so.
"We don't get any government funding but rely on fundraising and donations. In the main, we're run by a cracking bunch of big-hearted people who want to give back.
"We often say we're saving lives two at a time -- rescuing a dog and a person."
Veterans are encouraged to sign up to the programme via the Service Dogs UK website.