Wounded Warriors Canada has announced an initial investment of $300,000 to help provide those in need with post-traumatic stress disorder service dogs.
Veterans and first responders in need of a service dog are currently facing a wait time of up to two years, according to Philip Ralph, the national program director of Wounded Warriors Canada.
He said while a number of factors contribute to that wait, one of the most prominent is how long it takes to properly train a PTSD service dog, as the dog must learn to adapt to each veteran or first responder’s specific needs.
Kevin Johnson was a Halifax Regional Police officer for 20 years. He received a service dog in 2016 after being injured in the line of duty.
Maggie, a three year-old Labrador Retriever, now assists Johnson with both PTSD symptoms and the physical injuries he sustained from the event.
Johnson said Maggie does this by opening doors or picking up things he drops. She will also act as a buffer when he needs space, and alert him to stress or threats by tapping him with her paw.
Maggie is also specifically trained to help him while he sleeps. Johnson, who was trapped in a wildfire, said he used to relive the event every night.
“I used to wake up drenched, soaked from the nightmares several times a night,” Johnson said. “Maggie actually now wakes me up before I even have the nightmare, so I never experience it again. And then she puts her back against me…and settles me back down to go to sleep.”
Johnson has since co-founded the Canadian Intervention and Assistance Dogs program. He said the funding announced by Wounded Warriors will have a huge impact on his organization, as the cost to breed and train service dogs can be exorbitant.
“This [funding] is going to allow us to better do that training [and] to meet the demand for first responders and veterans out there,” Johnson said.
Ralph estimates the cost of a properly trained service dog can be anywhere from $13,000 to $25,000, depending on the type of dog and the tasks required of it.
He said Wounded Warriors funding will relieve wait list times by allowing partner organizations to focus on training dogs, instead of worrying where they will find the money to do so.
Wounded Warriors is a national charity focused on supporting the mental health of veterans, first responders and members of the armed forces. It has partnered with five service dog organizations across Canada.
Since it began, Ralph estimates Wounded Warriors has paired approximately 100 service dogs with someone in need. However, he said the number of veterans awaiting service dogs is difficult to assess.
“All I can say is every week, I probably get four to five requests minimum from across the country,” Ralph said.
Funds provided by Wounded Warriors will be used to place at least 25 dogs with a veteran or first responder in 2018.