Service dog charity for veterans speaks out
Above: Jillian McLellan, co-founder of Watch My 6 Service Dogs, and her trained dog Max
In 2014 a series of unfortunate events lead Jill McLellan to reach out for help with her mental health. She had experienced multiple sexual traumas in the military, and then the death of her younger brother by suicide. “I found when I was released from the military, it was ‘pump you full of medication and you’re good, we’ll send you on your way’,” she says. “So when I was released, I was on 7,000 miligrams of medication. I felt like a zombie, I couldn’t actually even cry. So when my brother passed away…I actually didn’t feel the emotion at his funeral. I felt nothing. So I knew that wasn’t healthy, I wanted to get me back.”
Having been a military member, McLellan had seen first-hand how Service Dogs can save people. She began to look into enrolling her dog, Max, for training. After many hopeless emails, and long waitlists, Jill was losing hope when she found a dog trainer named Tina Parker McNish. Tina empathized with Jill and when they agreed that the $30,000 price tag to train your dog was too high, they vowed to make it affordable to those who needed it most and created Watch My 6 Service Dogs, a not-for-profit organization.
Max had been her dog for a while, and was already helpful in some ways. He took to the training well. “The dogs naturally know when something is wrong, so it’s just picking up on what they know how to do and building on it for yourself.”
“When I started my journey years ago, I thought I was alone in all this. The more I get out and talk about my journey, the more I realize how common it is now,” says McLellan. “Not everybody needs a dog, but there’s a lot of people that can relate to mental health issues…it’s so, so important to have the conversation and know that there’s help out there.”
McLellan struggled to return to a less medicated life, and Max was key to some of her success. “I went through a good year and a half [with a] clinical team coming off of my medication, but it brought all those emotions. It brought back the pain and anxiety ten times over, so having Max as the tool kept me out and about, because there were times where I couldn’t even function to get a cup of coffee in the morning. Him being there gave me the courage and kept me focused on my healing.”
Watch My 6 Service Dogs, named after the expression for asking a fellow soldier to watch their back, continues to grow. The organization has certified close to 20 dogs with 30 currently enrolled in their Service Dog Training and Therapy Dog programs. When they first launched their non-profit, they only had the resources to help military members and Veterans, but with countless fundraising efforts, they are now also serving civilians and children.
Traditionally the organization does a lot of fundraising at public events, since some people are unfamiliar with using service dogs for mental health. “Because of our organization, we do all of our fundraising usually at public events…The other side of service dogs is sometimes people don’t understand what the dogs are, how they can help. I can’t say the number of times people come up to me and say ‘you don’t look blind’. And I say ‘oh well no I’m not’, or ‘oh no [I’m] training a dog for a veteran’, and it kind of puts you in a situation where you don’t know what to say. So we do a lot of public events to be able to educate the people while we fundraise.”
Unfortunately this spring, like so many organizations that rely on public events to raise funds, Watch My 6 Service Dogs hit a snag. But McLellan is undeterred. “Because of the world situation right now, all of our events are cancelled, therefore all of our funding got cancelled. But I’m not going to cancel my program, so we’re trying to do what we can to not cancel our clients coming in, as we have a waitlist of thirty people who want to come in at a given time and we’re currently training thirty dogs. I’m not going to close my doors. We’re having to reach out a little bit more than we typically do and find innovative ways to find funding.”
Enter The Urban Barrel, a Canadian distributor of premium oak barrels designed for aging spirits and cocktails. Until November 12, 2020, 10$ from every Urban Barrel Purchase will be donated to support Watch my 6 Service Dogs.
The Urban Barrel is a year-round supporter of Watch My 6 Service Dogs, usually donating $5 from every purchase. “This month we wanted to do more,” said Urban Barrel Company Barrelsmith, Jeffrey Roberts. “We hope to raise enough money so they can continue to provide their amazing services to those who fought and continue to fight for Canadians.”
Certainly these are difficult times for personally informing the public about a non-profit organization. If you’d like to show your support, you can donate to Watch my 6 Service Dogs at the link on their website. Hopefully their animal companions can continue to help those in need.