Thanks to service dog, veteran no longer alone with PTSD

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Thanks to service dog, veteran no longer alone with PTSD

Post by Trooper on Mon 16 Oct 2017, 11:33 am

Thanks to service dog, veteran no longer alone with PTSD

Published October 16, 2017 - 9:31am
Last Updated October 16, 2017 - 9:35am

Kim Gingell, a retired Canadian Forces member, and her PTSD service dog Omega.

“PTSD is such a nasty thing. Sometimes, it feels like your soul has been ripped out,” says Kim Gingell, a retired Canadian Forces member. Thankfully, she no longer has to face it alone. “With Omega, it feels like she has given me back part of my soul,” Gingell says about her soon-to-be five-year-old service dog, a truly amazing black Labrador retriever.

But not every service member diagnosed with chronic post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has this kind of help. Not yet, anyway. At least that is the goal for Gingell and others at Paws Fur Thought, a non-profit initiative in Eastern Passage that provides service dogs to veterans and first responders diagnosed with PTSD.

One of the worst things about PTSD, Gingell says, is when you tell someone, “... and all of a sudden, they treat you ... differently. I can still walk, talk, think, drink. I don’t need help going downstairs and that sort of thing,” she says. “I just can’t do as much as I used to do.”

But what’s worse, she says, is the stigma attached to it. Most people have heard of PTSD, but very few actually understand the complexities of it. Not everyone experiences it in the same way and what triggers one person may not trigger another.

“I’m not sure even the medical field completely understands PTSD,” says Gingell, who served as a full-time reservist in the Canadian Forces for 29 years, during which she completed an overseas tour.

So, when she first talked to Medric Cousineau, Paws Fur Thought co-founder, and learned about the work he was doing to pair veterans diagnosed with PTSD with service dogs, she wasn’t sure what to think.

“... I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into. I really hadn’t thought that much about service dogs at that point because they weren’t around that much then .... Now, we are seeing more and more people with service dogs,” she says.

Gingell was eventually paired with Omega in November 2013, when the dog was 14 months old. Omega is specially trained to not only react to the things that “trigger” Gingell, but more importantly, sense even slight changes in Gingell’s physiology that suggest a possible anxiety attack, for example. Omega will “alert” Gingell, which can divert her attention or help her to use a specific coping skill and hopefully prevent an episode.

Omega is specially trained to help veterans diagnosed with PTSD.

“If I am out and about shopping and I start to go into a store or a part of the store and she just doesn’t think that is a good idea, for whatever reason, she will alert me — she will pull me not to go in there. If I have night terrors, she will wake me ... she’ll jump on me. That is how she gets my attention,” says Gingell.

“When you first get the dog, it will try very subtly to alert you and then if that doesn’t work, it will try something else — jumping, licking, dancing — so it will do whatever works for you,” she adds.

And that is not all Omega does for Gingell.

“She gets me up in the morning — usually at 6:30,” she says, laughing. “But that’s what she is supposed to do,” she adds. In fact, that is the whole idea of having a service dog, according to Gingell. “These dogs are supposed to help get you up, get you moving. You have to take the dog out, you have to feed them, it’s your responsibility. Nobody else can do it. So, she has a purpose.”

Like those who devote their lives to the service of others, dogs like Omega are also raised specifically to serve.

“We use a school in Concordia, Kansas, called CARES (Canine Assistance Rehabilitation Education Services). The founder, Sarah Holbert, is doing a really great service for our Canadian vets,” Gingell says.

Through CARES, Paws Fur Thought is able to pair about 12 veterans with service dogs each year, which Gingell says is significant considering the length of time it takes to train the dogs.

“There are four prisons involved (in training) — two in Colorado, one in Missouri and one in Kansas,” says Gingell. “At some point (during the training process), she (Holbert) uses the prisoners to help train the dogs, which is a win-win situation for everyone,” she adds.

“For part of the vet’s training, they get to go to the maximum security prison where the dogs are trained with the prisoner ... so they get to talk to the guy that did the training. That doesn’t always happen, but it is really a unique feeling because you know there are ‘lifers’ in there and these people have done some horrible things, but what they are doing (training the dogs) is such a good thing,” says Gingell. “And it’s good for them, too. It gives the prisoners extra privileges as well and it keeps them separated from the general population. They get to get outside more and to them that is a great privilege. And dogs are just therapeutic,” she adds.

And while the dogs have a purpose, they also give those they are paired with purpose. In Gingell’s case, it was to volunteer as the intake co-ordinator for Paws Fur Thought, where she can be a part of helping others with PTSD cope with the help of a trusted companion at their side, 24 hours a day.

“Omega looks after me very well,” Gingell says.

As one can imagine, service dogs are not cheap — to train or raise — and Paws Fur Thought relies heavily on donations.

“A lot of people have a misconception that funding goes to run the company, but we are 100 per cent volunteer based. We don’t touch that money. It all goes straight to the vets. Right now, it costs about $5,000 per dog and because it is in Kansas, you are looking at another few thousand (depending on the exchange rate). It’s quite expensive and a lot of vets don’t have that kind of money. So, if they don’t have the travel expenses, we help them out because we don’t want that to be a ‘showstopper,’” she says.

That being said, if a veteran or first responder is diagnosed with PTSD, it can take some time before they are even ready to take on the responsibility of having a service dog, according to Gingell.

“When you are first diagnosed with PTSD, you are a real mess ... they get you in to see a psychologist, a psychiatrist, get your meds sorted out, you have regular sessions with your psychologist,” says Gingell. “So, you have to reach a certain point where you can do a lot of things on your own.”

Gingell says that once the veteran has reached a balance between their medications and therapy — both are working and they are stable, grounded — that is the time to look into a service dog. “If you can’t look after yourself, you can’t look after a dog.”

If you are interested in getting a service dog or volunteering with Paws Fur Thought, you can contact them through their website at or email



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