PTSD service dogs to be named after veterans and first responders

The puppies will enter training to become service dogs, which are being given to veterans and first responders who need them free of charge.

Dogs will be given to other veterans and first responders in need

These Collie puppies of Hope Heels Service Dogs will be trained to help people dealing with PTSD. 0:40

Kristine Aanderson tries to hush a few of the three-week-old puppies yelping for their mother.

In a few short weeks, the puppies will enter training to become service dogs, which will be offered free of charge to veterans and first responders who need them.

Aanderson chairs the board of the Hope Heels service dog team, an organization footing the bill for training the dogs, which will last two years and cost around $20,000 per dog.

The group hopes the dogs will assist veterans and first responders who suffer from PTSD or any other issue related to their roles.

But in helping first responders and veterans in need, Hope Heels is also making an effort to remember those who died by suicide — by naming the dogs after them.

"We wanted to try to contribute in one small way to ensure that the service of these men and women isn't forgotten," Aanderson said.

Kristine Aanderson holding Turner. Turner was named after Greg Turner, a paramedic who died by suicide in January 2015. (Sam Martin/CBC)

Turner, the only dog with a name so far, is named after Greg Turner, an Edmonton paramedic who died by suicide on Jan. 26, 2015, while on shift at the Kildare neighbourhood dispatch station. 

The family has given its blessing, she said, and in two years Turner will be able to help a first responder or a veteran in need.

"[Turner] is going to help Greg's memory live on," Aanderson said.

'Honoured to be asked': Greg's brother

For Jason Turner, the request to have one of the puppies named after his brother Greg was something he and his family are onboard with.

"It was out of the blue to us, but we're honoured to be asked," he said. "It's nice that sometimes there can be a few positive things out of this."

Jason Turner said Hope Heels and its initiative to give a service dog to veterans and first responders who need them is something Greg would have been behind.

"Obviously my brother in his chosen field as a paramedic, his job was to take care of people, and I think that he would see this as just an extension of that," he said. "Plus he loved animals and he was a good guy, and he'd want to help in any way he could."

Hope Heels is hoping to name all the puppies in this litter after first responders or veterans who have died by suicide. (Sam Martin/CBC)

The other puppies are still without official names for now, as the Hope Heels organization wants to have the blessing of the families of each first responder or veteran they hope to name the puppies after.

Aanderson said the reaction of families is usually positive.

"They're happy that, in one small way, their family member's sacrifice and effort can live on in something that's so positive, like one of these little service dogs," she said.

Jason Turner hopes the naming of the dog can act as a little healing mechanism for him and his family — while helping the person the dog will serve, too.

"The dog is potentially helping someone who needs a lot of help," he said. As for when the Turner family will go and visit Turner the puppy, he said it will be within the next couple of weeks.

Want to be a puppy raiser?

The next step is to find puppy raiser homes. Each dog needs a home to live in for more than a year; and the dog also needs to go to weekly training classes and has to be brought out in public as much as possible to help acclimate it to any and all situations.

So far, Aanderson said she only has one puppy raiser home, and they need about 10 for this litter.

To apply to be a puppy raiser, you can visit their website here.

For Jason Turner, his family is hoping that with the namesake, the family can help stress the importance of this program to veterans and first responders in need.

"Lending our name is the first thing," he said. "Raising awareness is the second thing."

With files from Sam Martin