The Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia is raising money to pay for service dogs for first responders suffering from Post-traumatic stress disorder.
Starr Dobson, president and CEO of the foundation, says the group decided to help fund the cause after she met with military veteran Medric Cousineau, who has championed service dogs for veterans.
He told Dobson that work led him to realize other people needed help, like 911 operators, firefighters, police officers and paramedics.
“Because his funding and his project was all focused on helping veterans he was unable to really make these other really important matches. Once he filled me on on that I thought, OK let’s figure out a way to make this happen. Because our first-responders are incredibly important to us. They’re the ones who run in when other people are running out,” she said.
A fundraising event on the weekend has raised enough money to match 18 first responders with dogs.
Cosineau will make the matches, after he speaks with the police and fire services in Halifax. He’s already training dogs.
Dobson says Cousineau’s dog Thai calms him when he’s stressed out or agitated by traumatic memories.
“He’s never had a psychologist wake him up at 4:30 in the morning to say it’s going to be OK and that's exactly what Thai does,” she said.
Howard Conter, a family physician and chairman of the board of the Tema Conter Memorial Trust, says numbers show about 20 per cent of first responders will suffer from PTSD.
The trust, named after Conter’s sister who was murdered by a serial killer in Toronto, helps first responders who suffer from the disorder. The paramedic who responded to the murder scene developed PTSD from the trauma.
Conter says the effect service dogs have on patients is “palpable.”
“Certainly in the area of psychology and psychiatry, it’s a lot more art than science. If you look at the concerns of PTSD, the symptoms people show, the top three are often anxiety, panic disorder and what we call hyperarousal. There seems to be a calming effect between the dog, or in this case the service animal, and the patient which allows to bring that down out of the skies,” Conter said.
For Dobson, the statistics are overwhelming.
“Zero per cent of people matched with a PTSD service dog have taken their life by suicide,” she said. “Zero per cent.”
Dobson says the foundation is still looking for donations to match even more responders with PTSD dogs.