Saving lives in every way imaginable
There are more than 10,000 young Australian veterans currently living with the debilitating symptoms for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), however, there is one hugely effective treatment that’s turning lives around. It doesn’t come from a pharmacy. It has four legs and can be found on the PetRescue website.
For the past 18 months, the Dogs for Diggers Program at Bathurst Prison has been recruiting rescue dogs through PetRescue to train as assistance dogs for young veterans returning from combat with injuries and PTSD. So far, the dogs and inmates engaged in the program have provided vital assistance to 16 veterans.
Once recruited to the program, the rescue dogs are paired with an inmate to undergo six months of training, under the supervision and guidance of a qualified professional dog trainer and renowned Australian dog trainer, Steve Austin.
“We use PetRescue regularly, as well as recruiting dogs from pounds, shelters and rescue groups,” says Dogs for Diggers Program Manager, Louise Kelly. “We don’t always know their backgrounds, but what we do know is that they are incredibly smart and clever dogs who are capable of amazing things.
“There’s a lot involved in the dogs’ training, including community therapy work at aged care facilities and schools for the disabled. There are also plans for the dogs to participate in an anti-bullying program at the local high school,” adds Louise.
There have been a few dogs that didn’t make the grade, and were adopted out as family pets to suitable homes. And the 16 who’ve graduated from the program are paying back two-fold and turning lives around.
“For the inmates selected to participate as trainers in the Dogs for Diggers rehabilitation program – the dogs give them a real sense of purpose and the strength they need to put their lives back on track,” says Louise. “For the soldiers, their dog’s loyal assistance and companionship is saving them from suicide or a life of deep depression.”
John Jarrett, President and Welfare Officer of Young Diggers, has seen first-hand, time and again, how assistance dogs from Bathurst Prison and their own training program rebuild lives, self-confidence and self-worth.
“A lot of these soldiers are too anxious and distressed to go into public places. That is, until they get their dogs,” says John. “We’ve had soldiers returning from combat on a dozen different medications, who are no longer reliant on any medications at all. And they put it down to their dogs saving their lives.
“Within seconds of meeting their dog, the soldiers are smiling,” adds John. “We had one ex-soldier whose depression was so debilitating, she hadn’t been able to leave her home for 15 years. The day after getting her assistance dog, she and her new companion joined us at the local RSL for dinner. She does her shopping now, and has recently been on holiday to Tasmania with her dog and carer. It’s just turned her so far around.
“Needless to say, the program has been very well received by the Department of Defence, who recently introduced a policy permitting soldiers to go to work with their assistance dogs. I’m just so pleased we got this program going,” says John.
Meet the PetRescue dogs saving diggers’ lives
From left to right: Tilly, donated by Big Dog Rescue; Ed, SLK Cattle Dog Rescue; Wally, Hunter Animal Rescue (photo by Shoot-Ya-Pooch); Buddy, Dog Rescue Newcastle; Duke, Gosford Dog Paws (photo by Sharon Stokes Photography).
“These dogs have great lives. They never have to be alone. They go everywhere with their Digger. They are ever-loyal and compassionate. They are a real inspiration and proof that rescue dogs are as good as any dog. I urge all pet seekers to adopt,” says Louise.
There are currently around 600 assistance dogs in Australia, and another 300 are needed by the end of next year. Ambitious plans are already in the pipeline to expand the Young Diggers Dog Squad nationally.
If you are a veteran or dog trainer who would like to find out more about the program, please visit youngdiggers.com.au/dogs or contact John Jarrett, President and Welfare Officer, via email firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you are a rescue group, and would like to support the program by supplying rescue dogs for training, please contact PetRescue via email@example.com.
The more people that know about the program and get involved, the more lives we can save.
Feature image by Zenio Lapka, Western Advocate.