He has added to my strength and his gentle nature has opened my heart and mind… as long as Ace is with me, I know that I am just fine.
– Greg Alkerton –
Stéphane & Sarge
I just wanted to share some words on how life is changing for me.
I was diagnosed with PTSD in 2010. My trauma happened in 1995 so I had been struggling for over twenty years, trying many different things to get my life on the right path. After seeing doctors, using prescription drugs, and even therapy, I decided to go off all my PTSD medications. I did not like the fact that I had no feelings whatsoever, and was in a “vanilla zone.” I couldn’t even love my lovely and supportive wife, Susan. I decided to gradually pull off the meds. I was o.k. for about one and one-half years, then started to feel the depression, avoided all social interactions, experienced deep and horrifying PTSD moods.
I’m a good person, and I don’t like to be snapping at anybody for little things. Life is too short to bring negative waves into this world. So what then? Did I return to my non-feeling “vanilla zone” (medication) and not enjoy life, stick with my three cats, stay at home in bed or watch t.v. for the rest of my life? My wife and I deserved better than that. She was living with a TURD, who was not very pleasant to deal with. We needed something!!
We were led to some great programs for couples, equine therapy, “Can Praxis” and “COPE” couples overcoming PTST every day. They are wonderful programs, for sure. We found it hard, however, to keep on track after the programs and coaching ended. Still searching, we went to a function called “A Tribute to Veterans” weekend at Bear Mountain Resort (September, 2015). It was an opportunity for us to engage in activities together outside of our home. We had a great time horseback riding, visiting Butchart Gardens, and meeting new friends. There were a couple of Veterans with Service Dogs, which was so nice because I love animals. So, we spent some time with them. I liked the way those service dogs helped those Veterans, and how the dogs responded during stressful situations.
The second day, information booths were set up in the lobby. One of them was Vancouver Island Compassion Dogs (V.I.C.D.). I spoke with Barb (Ashmead) and some dog handlers attending the booths. I saw a chocolate lab named Hunter with his handler. He looked at me, and licked my face. It was very emotional for me, and in fact I broke down and cried right there. I was so very happy to meet this little guy, and his handler talked to me about how Hunter had changed her life, and how different and better her life is with him. Many Veterans with PTSD who have Service Dogs, told me how great it was, so I took the information from that booth, and then contacted Barb at V.I.C.D. During the communication, Barb talked with me about Veterans Affairs Canada (V.A.C.), and said that they were looking for candidates for a pilot program on Service Dogs and PTSD Veterans.
I thought it sounded very interesting, so made the decision and started the process in October, 2015. I was thrilled to be able to do this, but I had to wait for six months to actually begin the process of pairing with a dog, part of the Pilot Project. That was very hard for me due to my struggles with PTSD, but I knew the Program could help thousands of Veterans, including me, so I decided, with the support of my wife, to go for it. In April, 2015, after several surveys and a monitor to check my sleep and activity patterns for seven days, my six month probation was completed. Now began the process of being paired with a compatible dog.
We were to see three dogs. Each would come, one at a time, into a room and we would take them for a short walk. The first dog was Sarge. He roamed around the room for thirty seconds to see who was there, and then he lay down, just in front of me. I think he knew that I was stressed about the process. We got to pat him and connect with him a little, and then went for a walk to get the feeling of walking a dog. I had never had a dog before, so there was a lot to learn.
We returned to the classroom, Sarge left, and the second dog came in. His name was Tui, a very social dog who loved everybody equally in the room. We went for a short walk with him as well. Once back to the room, and Tui gone, the third and last potential dog entered the room. His name was Mojo – quite an energetic personality, so tall and full of energy. We finished the walk and returned to the classroom again. We talked, and I was asked which dog I preferred the most, and why. I thought that Sarge connected with me the most, was easy to walk, and I actually liked walking with him. He was medium energy, and had a nice face and smile. When we left, we did not know which dog we might be paired with, but we had our hopes.
Next day at Wednesday training, those responsible showed up with Sarge. I was so happy! After the paperwork was done, around 12:30, we took him for a walk then left him at the V.I.C.D. centre. The following Sunday, Sarge was dropped off at our home for a three day/night trial to see how I liked – or didn’t like – the situation, and if he would fit in our household with our three cats.
After three days we returned to Wednesday training, and we had to leave Sarge there. The process is for Veteran and dog to be apart for a few days and see what we like, or not, about the dog. The following day I was very emotional about Sarge not being with us. I missed him. I was so depressed! I missed going out of the house, having a purpose, and a companion I felt I could talk to any time I felt down. On Thursday, I received an e-mail from Barb at V.I.C.D., saying that Sarge could go home with us on the next Saturday. I was so happy!
So, what has Sarge done for me so far? He helps me in various states: mentally, physically, socially, and gets me out of the house for fresh air and wonderful scenery…something I had never done before. He is there when I’m stressed, just at my side so I can pat him to calm me down. When I don’t realize I’m stressed, he grabs my arm or simply puts his head on my lap, or barks at me to get me out of my stressful situation. Only two months now, and we work as a team to connect so we can both have a great life. It is not easy to have a dog. There is a lot to learn, stress levels can go up more times than I like, but the good thing is Sarge is there to calm me down, and I can begin to ignore a situation just by focusing on him. The positive outweighs the negative.
We have almost finished the Level One training, and look forward to spreading the word on what a great program V.I.C.D. provides. I would especially like to thank the Royal Canadian Legion for their support. All Veterans and I thank you for giving me/us the chance to lead more normal lives.
Stephane R.J. Marcotte, C.D.
Petty Officer Second Class, P.O.2 (Ret.)
Training a team is provided free of charge to each recipient. It takes one year and between $25,000 and $30,000 for a team to complete the program. This includes dog food, veterinary treatments, obedience training, training equipment and gas cards to cover the travel cost to and from class. If you find value in what we do please consider donating.
Our program is provided free of charge to each recipient. It takes one year and between $25,000 and $30,000 for a team to complete the program, This includes dog food, veterinary treatments, training, equipment and gas cards to cover travel to class.
If you find value in what we do please consider donating. Your donations help remind our veterans that their sacrifice is not forgotten.