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Home / News / 2016 / 09 / 27 / Tommy, the puppy sponsored by Forces Reunited to become a fully trained assistance dog, has been paired with a female veteran.

Tommy, the puppy sponsored by Forces Reunited to become a fully trained assistance dog, has been paired with a female veteran.

Over a month ago

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Tommy, the puppy sponsored by Forces Reunited to become a fully trained assistance dog, has been paired with a female veteran.

Later this month, Tommy, our 8 month old yellow Labrador will be paired with the female veteran that he has been trained to help with the day-to-day effects of Post Traumatic Distress Disorder (PTSD).

Final checks are now happening to make sure that everything is in order for Tommy to be handed over to his veteran, who worked in the medical centre in Camp Bastion, Afghanistan. Her duties there, which involved receiving and treating injured troops as a first responder, left her with PTSD, which meant she was no longer able to work.

Earlier this year, Help for Heroes referred the veteran (who cannot be named for disclosure) to Veterans With Dogs and the process began, to find out if she was a suitable candidate for the programme. Veterans With Dogs carries out a rigorous assessment process to ensure that both dog and veteran are capable of dealing with the tasks ahead, as well as being suited to each other. In many respects the dog will effectively choose its owner, by displaying characteristic signs that are clear to the assessment team, consisting of professional dog behaviourists and mental health experts. Tommy and his veteran first met during the introductory meeting, where all veterans approved to have an assistance dog were given a chance to meet the pups. They had no idea, which pup might become theirs at this point, and it was only through close observation that the team made its decisions. The team often has initial ideas for potential pairings, but may change its mind on seeing the interactions taking place. However, for Tommy and his veteran it was a very easy match, with both bonding straight away, and so the next phase began.

Craig MacLellan, Veterans With Dogs founder and Tommy’s initial socialiser, said: “Tommy had to go to someone special because he was part of the first litter we took on for training, and he has played a very important part in the set-up of the charity. All the puppies have helped to shape the programme, but Tommy is very special to me.

“As a veteran living with PTSD, having my own assistance dog, Boo, has changed my life, and I know how important it is to choose the right dogs for our programme. Tommy has proven to be one of the best. He has a strong, confident character, takes to training easily and can be trusted in public with people of any age.

“After the pairing review, it was a unanimous decision to place Tommy with the earmarked veteran. We ask the mental health team to make the call to the veteran with the good news, as it’s a rewarding part of the programme – Tommy’s veteran literally screamed down the phone with joy! Often they cannot believe they have been chosen, and that was especially so with this veteran; having been in the Medical Corps and witnessing what shedid , could result in questioned beliefs in the military system. We know Tommy will make an enormous difference to her life, and help to turn it around.”

The process of transferring ownership begins with a capability assessment, to ensure that nothing has changed from the initial checks, including background stability, treatment and state of recovery, as well as personal circumstances. There is also a home check. So at the end of September, the team, and Tommy will stay with the veteran for three days, leaving him overnight each day so they can get to know each other. All going well, Tommy will then stay, but the pair will attend regular sessions at the Veterans With Dogs’ training centre. It’s a process of stepping back slowly, whilst ensuring that there is enough contact to help with any potential issues. Usually the qualifying process takes up to two years from start to finish, but Tommy is such a success already, it is thought that this will happen much sooner in this case.

As Craig says: “Often, when you exit the Forces, the resettlement process leaves you struggling to find a purpose in life and with disrupted behaviour patterns, especially when it comes to sleep, it can be difficult to get back into a routine. Having a dog means you have a duty of care to stick to, and if even that is proving a task, an assistance dog will help you through a process of ‘behavioural reactivation’. In my case, Boo pulls the duvet off me in the morning, then brings me my medication! We call this process ‘sleep hygiene’.

“We realised that adjusting to normal life also included getting to grips with finances, which is why we now have a financial advisor attending our training sessions. We train the dogs to cope with the worst case scenarios such as a veteran having a complete ‘melt-down’. One such case resulted in the veteran curling up on the floor, unable to move, so we trained his dog to stay with him as reassurance, and use triggers to help him ‘come back into the room’. In this case, his dog would lie on top of him and lick his face until he recovered.”

The programme that Veterans With Dogs has developed is built upon proven results, and has had full support from other leading organisations. The charity aims to repeat this year’s programme in 2017, and is currently looking for new puppy sponsors. Veterans With Dogs believe that any candidates for the programme do not necessarily have to be dog owners, though they may have been in the past. The most important thing is that they have to be 100% sure they can provide love and care for their animal. The rest is left to the excellent team at Veterans With Dogs. Every one of them is impassioned and qualified to ensure that the best pairings are made.

As Craig concludes: “We can’t wait for Tommy to be settled into life with his new owner. Whilst he’s a model assistance dog, we have to remember he is still a puppy (difficult to believe, given his size already), and loves running into the sea and rolling in mud as much as any other puppy.”

Here’s Tommy from new-born pup to 8 months old, including his two visits to the Forces Reunited office…

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VETERANS WITH DOGS is the first UK registered charity to directly address the needs of mental health difficulties for former service personnel of the British Armed Forces. Its aim is to support former members of the British Armed Forces, whose psychological or physical well-being may have suffered due to difficult past experiences and challenging life circumstances, via engagement with dogs. A Veteran of the British Armed Forces is defined by the Government as any person of any age who has served in the Armed Forces.

Visit: http://www.veteranswithdogs.org.uk/