Six rescue dogs adopted from Dogs Trust recently enjoyed a celebratory night to remember as they graduated at Service Dogs UK’s annual accreditation event.
The super six assistance dogs have now formed life-changing partnerships with veterans from the Armed Forces and Emergency Services who have a clinical diagnosis of post- traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The internationally accredited PTSD assistance dog charity, Service Dogs UK, runs a programme where carefully selected rescue dogs are partnered with a veteran. Most of the dogs are adopted from the UK’s largest dog welfare charity Dogs Trust, so a close working relationship has developed between the two charities.
Once adopted, the dogs go into the home of an experienced foster carer before beginning their journey with the veteran they are matched with. This year’s successful graduates all came from two Dogs Trust rehoming centres: Salisbury and Newbury.
For up to 12 months, the veteran and their new dog work together to train and bond with the ultimate aim of successfully completing the programme to become a fully-fledged assistance dog partnership. The dogs typically assist by waking their handler from nightmares, fetching medication, interrupting anxiety attacks and depressive behaviours, taking them to the nearest exit when overwhelmed and positioning themselves to provide tactile comfort and support when needed.
“We see veterans change before our eyes as they go through the challenging but rewarding programme,” said Garry Botterill, founder and Operational Director of Service Dogs UK. “There is a real sense of ‘saving each other’ as the veteran and dog work together as a team towards accreditation. The training is a hugely positive experience for both, especially when there is that eureka moment and the unique and special bond is made.”
Following extensive research and with the benefit of a Churchill Fellowship to the USA and Netherlands, Founder Garry Botterill learned how dogs can mitigate the symptoms of PTSD in Veterans of the Armed Forces and Emergency Services. The charity now has two training Hubs, one in West Sussex and the other in Somerset where veterans from within and surrounding counties are carefully matched with a dog from ‘rescue’ and begin an incredible nine to 12-month journey together to achieve accreditation.
“The sense of accomplishment for the veteran is often something rarely experienced since being diagnosed with PTSD,” Garry continued. “Veterans who previously struggled to go out of the house and have any social contact, now with an assistance dog by their side, find they can meet with others. It is a new and bright beginning.”
“Our annual graduation event is always a highlight of the year where we celebrate the dedication of our team and our successful new partnerships. Dogs Trust has been with us from the start. We are proud and grateful to be working with them to give dogs from rescue the opportunity to reach their full potential. Our charity’s moto is ‘changing lives two at a time’ and our graduation event gives us the chance to celebrate these changed lives.”
Veterans and their assistance dogs who graduated at the event in Leatherhead, Surrey on 26th November included RAF Veteran Lee. Speaking about Barkley, his Labrador cross, Lee said, “He’s changed my life because I don’t feel I can die now, I’ve got to be here to look after him. The work of Service Dogs UK is incredible, without the charity I don’t know where I would be. They have given me my life back.”
More than 30 dogs from Dogs Trust have been adopted by the charity since 2015, helping to change lives of veterans across the country. “It is heart-warming to see the transformation in both dogs and veterans as they start their new life together,” said Louise Crawford, Animal Welfare Scheme Coordinator at Dogs Trust.
Successful partnerships that graduated:
Lee (from Hampshire) and Labrador/cross Barkley. Barkley was fostered by Dogs Trust Salisbury Centre Manager Claire, who soon realised what a lovely calm boy he was, even with the feline member of the household.
Rich (from Hampshire) and terrier Molly. Molly is a small dog with a big personality. She was in a foster home while in the care of Dogs Trust Salisbury where her potential was quickly spotted.
Bill (from Bridport, Dorset) and cross breed Patch. Five-year-old Patch was transferred into the care of Dogs Trust Salisbury from Dogs Trust Bridgend.
Patrick (from Axminster, Devon) and Labrador Dottie. Dottie was handed into Dogs Trust Bridgend, along with her friend Bella, by a member of the public before being transferred to Dogs Trust Salisbury. Both Labradors, now aged three years old, were adopted by SDUK.
Sadly, two veterans missed the dinner, but both spoke about their successful partnerships:
Martin, from Sussex, is an Army Veteran who served with the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Anglian Regiment. He has been partnered with cocker spaniel Ollie who washanded into the care of Dogs Trust Salisbury by a member of the public.
Martin said: “My assistance dog Ollie has helped transform my life, no doubt about it.”
Lee (from Tiverton in Devon) and lurcher/cross Rio. Rio was adopted when he was just 10 months old from Dogs Trust Newbury. Staff at Dogs Trust could see Rio had huge potential – all he needed was someone to help him flourish providing an outlet for his boundless energy.
Speaking about Rio, Lee said: “I’m much more confident going out and about now like going to the shops or a cafe with less panic attacks. Rio and I are a team, neither of us is going to give up on the other. He’s got my back, I’ve got his, and Service Dogs UK are there for both of us.”