Man’s Best Friend and Life Saver: Relieving the Symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder with Service Dogs
PHOTO CREDIT: Sylvain Chartrand
The bridge was high enough with sharp rocks beneath that ensured death would be imminent. He carefully tucked his suicide note between the lamp and photo frame next to his friend’s favourite TV chair and headed out into the bitter night towards the bridge that he envisioned would finally bring his family peace. You see, Georges wasn’t intending to commit suicide to end his suffering. He was trying to save the lives of his wife and children, for he only saw a cloud of darkness encircling them that he had unwittingly created once he began the downward spiral of his long battle with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
As he pondered the end of his life while walking towards the highest railing on the iron bridge that spanned across a swirling river, his friend ran frantically towards him. His buddy had just stumbled upon the suicide note.
“There is help, I promise and I will not leave your side until a solution is found,” he called out.
That solution came in the disguise of an angel named Vardo. He gave Georges the best reason to live — to experience the most precious, special bond of unconditional love every day.
Four months following their first meeting, Georges and Vardo were marching together across Parliament Hill to inform other veterans, politicians and Canadians that miracles do happen, and they come in many different forms. You see, Vardo is a large, black Labrador with deep brown eyes, a beautiful shiny coat and a jacket that spells out “Service Dog”. Vardo has come to Georges highly trained with the unique capabilities of waking Georges from extreme night terrors, stopping full blown panic and anxiety attacks and surprisingly, alerting Georges that his diabetic sugar levels are dangerously low, requiring him to take his insulin shots immediately.
Since Georges and Vardo’s first meeting in July 2013, a miraculous recovery has unfolded. It has taken Georges from a life of reclusion, high doses of medications/therapies, and constant thoughts of suicide, to giving back to his country, family and community, and helping other veterans like himself in the process.
Producer Deborah Lewis of Channel Productions shares her thoughts: “I was interviewing Georges shortly before Christmas as Vardo snored gently at his feet, and I asked him what his plans were for the holidays. He said, ‘I’m leaving in early January to embark on a Caribbean cruise with my family and I’ll be leaving my insulin at home; I no longer need it.’ I quickly wrapped up the interview so I could control the wave of emotion that began sweeping over me.”
Every hour, a soldier commits suicide in North America. Eighteen per cent more soldiers commit suicide than have died in combat. These statistics do not include our veterans since these deaths are not tracked by the military. Veterans’ deaths are considerably higher than the civilian population’s and grossly unreported due to the associated stigma.
Last summer, Lewis first became aware of the plight of our injured and ill Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) members. Since then, she has focused her energies on giving them the attention they deserve in the media and political arenas as the spotlight shifts to the post-Afghanistan conflict theme of thousands of troops returning home.
“While our company has business goals, to us the support of our CAF injured and ill carry equal, if not higher, importance,” she explained. “Channel Productions has taken up the goal of promoting the use of Service Dogs to help injured soldiers return to Canadian society through the production of a documentary called ‘A Life of Thai’ dedicated to this cause.”
The objective of the documentary is two-fold: to reach out to those who have closed themselves off from society by showing them how Service Dogs can help them improve their lives and second, raise public awareness about the situation of returning Canadian soldiers. All monies raised from the production of this documentary will go directly towards the procurement of Service Dogs for the most vulnerable veterans.
To date, the outpouring of support has been tremendous from individuals, politicians and organizations such as the Royal Canadian Legion, Wounded Warriors and Canadian Veterans Advocacy. Donations are gratefully accepted at www.channelproductions.ca that will assist in the speedy completion of “A Life of Thai”.
“Never let the opportunity slip away to thank a member of our military for their service to you and your country,” added Lewis.