Healing Paws: Supporting Veterans and First Responders with Service Dogs


K9 Stitch and Paige Noelck (Dog Trainer) © Courtesy of Courageous Companions

“When I was partnered with K9 Bennie in September of 2020, I can’t say it was love at first sight…it was so much more,” Michelle Suess said. “For a long time, I couldn’t do or be anything I loved. Bennie started the hard work of chipping away at the walls I had built around myself for protection.”

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a mental illness stemming from traumatic experiences, casts a deep shadow on the lives of those affected. Whether triggered by a single harrowing event or prolonged emotional trauma, PTSD can lead to intrusive and distressing symptoms. Victims may find themselves haunted by vivid nightmares and flashbacks and often avoid anything reminiscent of the traumatic event. Feelings of constant nervousness, irritability, and detachment from reality become all too common, making day-to-day living challenging. However, like in the case of Michelle, service dogs trained specifically to aid individuals with PTSD can make a profound difference:

“They truly are man’s best friend,” Michelle said. “They are sent here to work with us to help make the world a better place.”

Since 2016, Courageous Companions, a non-profit charitable organization and an Accredited Service Dog Organization, has been on a mission to provide service dogs to military service men and women, veterans, and first responders diagnosed with an operational stress injury. These remarkable canines are not just companions; they are trained to perform many helpful tasks. A service dog can provide grounding, distraction, or gentle guidance when faced with dissociation or panic. They can offer tactile stimulation and deep pressure therapy to soothe their handler during distressing moments. With a keen ability to sense panic before it overwhelms their handler, they can provide vital alerts, preventing potential disruptive behaviour.

service dogs
MSAR K9 Molly and Sam Dubas
K9 Nova and Steve Gloade

Beyond these specialized tasks, service dogs can also assist in practical ways, like finding objects for their handlers or ensuring safe personal space in crowded public places. When night terrors strike, the service dog is there to wake and comfort their handler, making the transition back to reality more manageable. Sometimes, all it takes is knowing that someone has your back to start the healing process.

A service dog can cost anywhere from $20,000 to $30,000, depending on the type of disability the person has and their location. Each Service Dog undertakes specialized training to provide for the needs of their individual. The two are then trained together to become a service dog team. Training can take up to one year, and travel is often required for training and testing. Donations are crucial to the placement of service dog teams.

“I am a retired member of the Canadian Armed Forces after serving for 27 years with the Military Police and the RCMP,” shared Pat Fisher. “In 2013, I was diagnosed with PTSD. After receiving four years of therapy, I contacted Courageous Companions about getting a service dog to help me cope with everyday life. On May 20th, 2017, I finally had the pleasure of being introduced to my K9 Sadie, a female German Shepherd. As of today, K9 Sadie and I are pretty much inseparable.”

As of 2020, Courageous Companions has provided over 212 trained service dogs, saving lives in the process. These service teams have helped to decrease depression, need for medication, aggression and suicidal thoughts, and increase confidence, sense of belonging, patience, and emotional stability. All donations go directly to improving the quality of life of service men and women by providing them with specially trained service dogs.

“K9 Sadie has helped me out of my shell and allowed me to go out in public once again,” said Pat. “Thank you, Courageous Companions, for our new life.”

Your support makes a world of difference. Learn more and donate today at courageouscompanions.ca

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Courageous Companions is a registered charity which provides quality trained certified Service Dogs to Military Veterans and First Responders.


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