Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia sexual assault victims get service dogs to help with PTSD

Canine companions are helping to relieve symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder in sexual assault survivors.

'I can have one of the worst days possible and he is there to...lift me up and bring me back,' owner says

It takes 18-24 months to train service dogs that will be placed with victims of sexual assault who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. (Steve Berry/CBC)

Canine companions are helping to relieve symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder in sexual assault survivors.

Jessica Brunet says she's gotten her life back since the arrival of her dog Pirate.

"I'm a different person [than I was] a couple of years ago, before I was released from the military," she said.

"I was locked in my house for upwards of six months." 

'We're never alone'

​Pirate is specially trained to help people suffering from PTSD. 

Symptoms include vivid nightmares, flashbacks and a feeling that something terrible is about to happen.
There are currently three women with sexual violence-related PTSD waiting for puppies from K9 Partners Assistance Dogs. (Steve Berry/CBC)

"Pirate and I, we're never alone. He gives me...100 per cent, he's non-judgmental. So I can have one of the worst days possible and he is there to sort of lift me up and bring me back," Brunet said.

Trains dogs

Pirate has also given her a new purpose in life.

Brunet now trains service dogs and helps connect those suffering from  PTSD with their own canine companions. The program is through K9 Partners Assistance Dogs of Halifax.

This puppy is being trained to help sexual assault survivors cope with symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. (Steve Berry/CBC)
Anna-Marie Carr, who has PTSD as a result of being sexually assaulted, is one of those who received a dog from Brunet's group just this past week.

Shes also fostering another service dog in training, which can take 18-24 months. 

Hoping to rejoin the world

Carr hopes that Dakota will help her move out of her comfort zone. 

"I'm hoping once again I can be part of the world, have a job, a life, meet people again. [It] has been difficult just being out."

The service dogs come from a specific breeder outside of Toronto, and go through extensive socialization and training that continues once a connection with a new owner is made.

Volunteer work

Owners also train the dogs to recognize their PTSD symptoms. 

"So what the dog is trained to do is pick up on that sense of stress, and nudge them to bring them back, block me. If we're at the grocery store, he gets between me and others," Carr said.

Burnet's group fundraises to purchase the dogs, but any time spent training the animals is done entirely on a volunteer basis. 

There are currently three women with sexual violence-related PTSD waiting for puppies from Burnet's group and one of those dogs' training is almost complete.

With files from Steve Berry

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