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 –

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Team Stories

Don & Mac

MEETING MAC
Two paws on the bed and a nose in the middle of my back, he has awakened me from a nightmare.  No one in my household would ever wake me by touching me. I look at the clock.  It’s 0337.  I sit on the edge of the bed, and he is looking at me, slowly wagging his tail.  I reach for him, but he backs away.  I stand, grab my bathrobe, and we start downstairs.  After checking the perimeter, we head back upstairs and he lies down and is asleep before I can get settled in bed.  As I lay there hugging my wife, I can hear his soft snores, and I smile.

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Mac was introduced to me in early July, 2014, when Barb (Ashmead), conceiver and CEO of Vancouver Island Compassion Dogs, came for a home visit. I was expecting a medium-sized dog between twenty five to thirty five pounds. Barb showed up with two Labs in tow. After introductions she told me that Mac, this massive Black Lab, was mine. I asked about the size, and she said “Sometimes you get the dog you want, and sometimes you get the dog you need.” Since then Mac and I have been constant companions.

My moniker while I served “In Country” was Big Mac. I choose to spell the dog’s name “Mac” and call him “Big Mac”, and together we are “Team Mac”. I can’t say that Mac saved my life because that distinction belongs to my wife Marti, but he has certainly changed my, or probably our, lives.

Mac is not a lovey- type dog with me, but he is my constant companion. We walk and train four to five hours a day. That time had been spent on my computer during the day, and watching t.v. at night. Now we are outside rain or shine, which gives my wife time to do things she would like to do without interference from me. Twice a week we are at school where I have been learning how to train Mac. It has been a challenge for me to train Mac because PTSD (which I have been dealing with since 1969) gives me a very short fuse, and he is very hard-headed. Mac is a source of frustration and elation. Each day we have our battles and our triumphs.

Mac senses my mental health, even small changes that happen throughout the day. If he senses that I am stressing, he will stay very close, and if he senses that I need a change, he will begin poking me with his nose and looking into my eyes. This is the signal for us to get up and out of the house. Mac has been better for me than any of the drugs I have been prescribed over the years. Big Mac is like having a therapist 24/7, keeping me grounded and focusing on things other than my own thoughts. Team Mac is awesome.

I guess when people ask me what Mac does for me I can say: he is teaching me patience; he is the dog, and if he does something that I don’t want him to, that is a teaching opportunity, and the battle is worth the outcome. He allows me to be in public and to interact with people, because he is the focus of their attention, not me. He alerts me when there is something behind me that may startle me. He will stand and block access to me if I ask him to, and that instils a sense of calm. Mac keeps my feet somewhat planted on the ground a good chunk of the time, and he is my BUDDY.

 

WHEN I LEARNED TO LISTEN
It’s still dark. 5:05 a.m. Mac will be waking up in a half hour. He will shake his head and make his ears flap, and slap loudly. He’s talking to me: “I’m up and ready to go for our walk!”

For over two years, Mac has been within two meters of me and things got better when I learned to listen. The big things were easy to pick up on: waking me from a nightmare, which he did early on, is easy to understand. Mac, front paws on the bed, pokes me with his nose and tries to roll me with his nose. When I awake, he moves away from the bed, staring at me while slowly wagging his tail. Once I sit up and say a couple of words to him, he rubs my legs with his head and snorts his happy snort.

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It’s the subtler nuances that took us time to develop. 5:15 a.m. Fifteen minutes and he will be awake. He is never more that five minutes off for his certain event times. He will awaken me at 5:30 for walk and breakfast, a walk at 1:00pm, dinner at 4:30pm, another walk at 9:00pm, and bed at 10:30pm. Other things happen during the day, but these times are ingrained and Mac will remind me of the time if I don’t start making a move. Mac is talking to me, letting me know what we have agreed upon, and reminding me that I need to live up to my end of the agreement.

Still, understanding of intangible intimations took more bonding time. More conversations. More understanding. It’s the quick upward glance while we are walking. A check in. Sort of “Are you with me?” If he doesn’t feel that I am aware, he will sit down and look at me. I miss- read that one for a while. It’s the nudge when Mac thinks I have been sedentary too long. It’s the eye contact. If he feels I am sad or down, Mac will bring me a toy. He makes me laugh out loud every day.

I talk non stop to Mac on some of our walks. He acts as if he understands, glancing up at the appropriate time, looking as if he would like to make a comment. 5:25am. It will be any minute now. Perhaps I will act as if the ear flapping didn’t wake me. He will repeat the head shake a couple of times. If no response, then he will put his front feet up on the bed to poke at me. If no response now, he will back away from the bed about a meter and bark just once, watch me, and slowly wag his tail. If no response after the bark, then it is off to wake or find Marti to check on me. God, I love that dog. He has made a great difference in our lives. Things got better when I learned to listen to Mac.

There it is! The ear flapping! 5:28am. Friday morning. It is impossible to wake in a bad mood with Mac around. He is running under my legs, rubbing his head on the bed, saying ARRRRH!!!!

 

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.

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