“Come again, you guys are needed!”
“This interaction really helps me. After the last therapy dog visits, I felt really good. The pain in my leg subsided, gloomy thoughts went away. I came again today to receive the same positive effect from the dogs. It seems to me that the dog just pulls all the negativity out from me, and I feel better physically and psychologically! Come again, you guys are needed!” said Petro, one of the veterans.
We visited the veterans at the Saksahanskoho health centre again. The guys were really happy to meet us, and despite the cold weather came out from their dorms and didn’t let us go for a while!
“The dogs’ participation in group and individual therapy sessions helped to partially relieve stress and create a trusting atmosphere”
The non-profit organization “Blakytnyy Ptakh” organized a psychological rehabilitation session in October 2016 for people who former prisoners of war. Hero’s Companion therapy dogs and their handlers were invited to assist during this two day session. As soon as participants entered the dog handlers began to work (and didn’t stop!). The therapy dogs were near the participants the entire time. The dogs always accompanied the participants during their walks, and when the dogs went to rest a few participants were always waiting behind and asked when the dogs would return to them. Everyone was interested in communication with the four-legged therapists Chief and Elya.
The dogs came to the participants, one by one, during the group sessions, and people were very pleased to interact with them. Chief worked with more active people, played with them, hugged them. Elya sympathized with those who were more calm and shy, gently coming to them, and they seemed kindred after few minutes with her.
The psychologists were watching the therapy dogs enthusiastically. They told us that the dogs helped them to know the mood in the group during the session. “The dogs’ participation in group and individual therapy sessions helped to partially relieve stress and create a trusting atmosphere. An injured person who often has issues with an adaptation to society, loses his or her trust in humanity and can’t contact other people. In such kind of cases dogs can help to initiate safe contact. In my opinion the participation of dogs in psychological sessions with people affected by the war has a positive effect” – said Tetyana Sirenko, a psychologist who led the session.
Update on Basta!
Basta was an explosive detection dog trained by volunteers at the training centre we work with. She was deployed to work at the front in eastern Ukraine with her handler, Petro. Not long after deployment while at the front their force came under heavy fire, which badly injured Petro (handler). Petro had to be evacuated, and suffered injuries (bullets to the spine, multiple shrapnel injuries) which resulted in him being paralyzed from the waist down. Amid the chaos, Basta (K9) was trapped in her crate for days, with shells and shrapnel falling all around her. Finally, almost a week later, Ukrainian soldiers came back to their position where Basta was found in her kennel. Fearful, disoriented, dehydrated, hungry, and frail from a terrifying experience, Basta was freed and eventually made it back to Kyiv.
But the experience had left Basta traumatized, and just like humans, she suffered from PTSD. When the Canadian trainers arrived for our inaugural training mission in August 2015 Basta still had no handler, so Marc (trainer and Canadian Special Forces veteran) began to work with Basta and quickly developed a strong bond with her. It was decided that Basta would go home with Marc to Canada to work with him and continue her rehabilitation. As Marc says, “Basta has made a remarkable recovery and is a member of [our] family and has a very special place in the hearts of the trainers.”
When Canadian trainers Chris and Marc came back to Ukraine in April 2016 Marc was “privileged and honoured” to meet Petro, Basta’s first handler. Due to the severity of his injuries, Petro was told that he would probably never walk again. But as you can see, the fighting spirit in him never gave up, and through exceptional efforts through physiotherapy, Petro is now able to walk short distances with assistance. It was a very special moment for the 2 veterans, who were brought together on account of their own and Basta’s suffering and triumph. Hero’s Companion is honoured to be a part of this story, and we know that this is only the beginning to a great friendship and bond among soldiers and their faithful companion.
Veteran with PTSD finds dog therapy beats medication
“It kind of snaps you out of whatever you’re feeling and you have this kind of cute, giant dog in your lap so how can you be mad at that?” says Miron, who lives in Hamilton, Ont.
The Canadian veteran has endured a five-year road to recovery that has included therapy and numerous medications. But the 31-year-old says his biggest saviour has been his service dog.
“Out of everything I’ve gone through and done, the dog has probably helped the most,” he says.
This is Basta. Her story began when Anatoliy trained her and her handler, Petro, to search for explosives at the front in eastern Ukraine. But not long after she got to the war zone the unit she was working with came under heavy shelling. The shelling badly injured her handler, Petro, who had to be evacuated and to this day is not able to feel his legs from the waist down. Amid the chaos, Basta was left in her kennel crate for over a week with no food or water. Due to the heavy fire, no one was able to safely get to Basta to release her, so for over a week she was trapped in her kennel as shells and shrapnel fell all around her. Eventually she was freed and 3 weeks later finally made it back home to Kyiv. But the experience had obviously left a mark on her, as dogs, just like humans, can suffer from PTSD.
When the Canadian contingent arrived in early August Basta still had no handler, so Marc suggested he take her back to Canada with him for some rehabilitation and continued training as a explosive search dog.
A story written about the Ukrainian Sich Battalion saving an abused dog on the frontlines in eastern Ukraine
Boys, you – are the best!
At our position in Pisky we happened upon a German Shepherd. Sullied by vandals, hungry, traumatized. The fire for life was gone from her weary eyes. The troops shared their rations with her, and took care of her. They named her Alice, for she had lost almost all of her hearing and spent the whole time in her world of silence, reliving the experiences in her mind, like Alice in Wonderland. Every time a car would drive into Pisky she ran to it, as if she knew that it was her only hope to escape from this place of war, where there were no gun shots, explosions, or painful memories of her experiences…. They took her, though not immediately; the car had been loaded up completely, smelled of spilled diesel, the engine heavily backfiring. But they took her. Now, Alice is safe. They cut the offensive inscriptions from her fur, and they bathed her and gave her warmth… Now she faithfully walks alongside her rescuers; she has recovered and a spark has reappeared in her eyes.
Submitted by a Canadian Forces veteran to Courageous Companions/MSAR:
“In the period I was training I needed immediate help so MSAR gave me Stinky [a service dog] – you gotta see this dog – it is like a rock you feel so safe with her hanging out with you. I went fishing and camping and talked to that dog for three days – three freaking days – I never talked to mom for three freaking days straight. After that weekend I decided life was worth living and got back on track.
I want to thank MSAR they have definitely saved my life – I know because I was a little spot in the world and had the gun loaded ready to blow my freaking brains all over the wall but Stinky came over and put her head on my lap as I held the gun to my head – and I could not do it – so I called my support person and he got one of the guys in the soldiers support group to come over and talk to me – it saved my life. The look that Stinky gave me I will never forget it – I felt needed, like someone gave a crap. I never thought anybody cared until I got help.
I know that having this Elite Service dog has stopped me four times in the past six months from killing myself – it is that constant unwavering, non-judgmental bond that I have with my dog that brought me back from the darkness and stop the demons from coming out at night.”
Submitted by a Canadian Forces veteran to Courageous Companions/MSAR:
“I cannot say enough about Courageous Companions. From my very first interaction with George I have felt supported. In my initial interview with George he told me, “Look, you have my number. If you ever feel that things are taking too long or aren’t working out, call me.” It has never been necessary to call George.
Part two and three of the process went very smoothly and I was handed off to Marc Lapointe. Marc is amazing. He very quickly assessed my needs and invited me to meet Gracie to see if she was the right fit. When I went to Marc’s house I was both apprehensive and hopeful. Marc is a gentle and sensitive man. As a fellow sufferer we made a connection. I would be proud to call him a friend. I was amazed at how he had turned his busy home into a training and support facility for the dogs and clients of Courageous Companions.
Fortunately Marc’s instincts were bang on and Gracie and I made an immediate connection. I spent several days with Marc, Gracie and all the other dogs he was training. Marc was very patient and knowledgeable. He taught by example. I learned a lot from him and perhaps more importantly came to realize how much I didn’t know. I was amazed and surprised when Marc said that Courageous Companions paid for everything: dog, leash, harness, crate, my meals and accommodation…everything. I felt humbled, grateful and also undeserving. Marc assured me that injury in service to Canada made me deserving. Wow! Neither DND nor Veterans Affairs have ever said that to me.
Gracie has already made a huge difference in my life. One of my worst problems is the nightmares. I have tried drugs, sleep clinics, a mental hospital, and years of therapy and yet my nightmares are so frequent and intense that I was afraid to go to sleep. Knowing what the night could bring and how painful it could be I would fight going to sleep and only when absolutely exhausted could I fall asleep. The very first night that I spent with Gracie she woke me up before the nightmare ran its full course. Whereas before Gracie I would not wake until soaked in sweat and choking on bile, now Gracie wakes me at the beginning of the nightmare. Physically and emotionally I am not the wreck that I was at the end of the show. Wholly unanticipated by me, knowing that Gracie has my back, in just two short months I no longer fear going to sleep. I am able to go to bed at 2100 or 2200 hours and easily fall asleep. The occasional full blown nightmare still leaks through.
A couple of weeks back I awoke gagging and in a panic. I clearly made enough noise that it also awoke my wife who was sleeping across the hall. As I was rushing down the dark hall to the kitchen sink, Gracie was right with me, leaning and pressing in. My wife was turning some lights on and trying to rub my back as I was choking and leaning over the sink and Gracie was right there between us, almost as if she was saying to Rosemary, ‘It’s OK, I got this.’ It gives Rosemary great comfort seeing how Gracie helps me.
Courageous Companions, and Gracie in particular, have helped me more that any prescription ever did. George, Marc, and everyone who has made this possible, with the most heartfelt sincerity: Thank You.”