Saskatchewan

Service dog to help PTSD sufferers deal with night terrors

There'll be a special, four-legged guest at the lieutenant-governor's levee on Jan.1.

Ruff Rider will be special guest at lieutenant-governor's levee in Regina on Jan. 1

The ever-calm Ruff Rider dropped by the CBC Saskatchewan radio studios on Dec. 31. (CBC)

There'll be a special, four-legged guest at the lieutenant-governor's levee on Jan.1.

Ruff Rider, who was named by Lt.-Gov. Vaughn Solomon Schofield, is being trained as a PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) service dog.

Just 10 months old, the mastiff-great Dane crossbreed is big, tipping the scales at 64 kilograms, and is almost a metre high at the shoulder.

However, he's a gentle giant, his trainer Rebecca Santanna said. 

Santanna is with a group called Neglected Animals Service Humanity (the NASH Project). Many of its animals work with ex-soldiers who are over six foot-two — hence the need for big dogs.

Ruff Rider is an easy-going dog, who isn't fazed by traffic noises, airplanes or rambunctious small children.

Dog ready to help with night terrors, 'dissociative' moments

Sometime in 2016 after his training is complete, Ruff will be partnered with a person suffering from PTSD, a mental illness resulting from exposure to trauma involving death or the threat of death, serious injury or sexual violence.

The dog will actually nudge you and apply pressure — it is extreme comforting.- Rebecca Santanna

Ruff is already adept at recognizing when people are experiencing PTSD-related stress or night terrors, and he knows how to intervene. Sometimes that's with a look, while other times, there's a physical interaction.

"If you're having a dissociative or a stressful moment, the dog will actually nudge you and apply pressure — it is extreme comforting," Santanna said.

With night terror intervention, Ruff will crawl up onto the person's lap or even jump up on the bed.

"He senses it," Santanna said. "It's like, 'Hey, are you OK?'"

Ruff Rider will be at the New Year's levee (1-4 p.m. CST at Government House in Regina) and will be posing for photos.

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