For the first time, military veterans experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) will be able to access specially trained assistance dogs under a new program funded by the Federal Government.
The Sunshine Coast’s SmartPups is one of only two groups nationwide to be selected to train and supply the ‘psychiatric assistance’ dogs.
Federal Member for Fairfax Ted O’Brien said this innovative treatment would change the lives of many veterans suffering from PSTD.
“Dogs are renowned for being able to detect and respond to stress in ways that humans cannot,” Mr O’Brien said.
“These psychiatric assistance dogs have been specifically trained to pick up on increased stress in their veteran and help calm or distract them.
“For instance, the dogs can be trained to wake veterans from a night terror, scan the environment for the veteran to reduce hypervigilance, or put themselves between the veteran and members of the public to help the veteran feel safer,” he said.
“Plus it’s such a bonus for our region because SmartPups is located right here on the Sunshine Coast.”
SmartPups Director Patricia McAlister said four veterans had already qualified for a smart pup.
“We’ve known for some time that our assistance dogs really can make a difference for returned military personnel so we’re really excited to be selected for this program,” Mrs McAlister said.
“We see amazing changes in the clients with their dogs. The dogs can pick up on anxiety where humans can’t, they can help the veterans with feeling more secure, feeling safer, giving them confidence and it’s not just a pet dog, it is a task-trained assistance dog.”
Mrs McAlister said the Federal Government contract was a huge boost for the local not-for-profit.
“It costs around $30,000 to raise and train an assistance dog, there is a lot of training that goes into it so yes this funding is going to make a huge difference.”
The Federal Government is committed to assisting veterans and their families, and has contributed more than $230 million per year toward veteran mental health.
Minister for Veterans and Defence Personnel Darren Chester said matching a veteran experiencing PTSD with a specially trained assistance dog helps reduce isolation and gives the veteran a chance to improve their mental wellbeing and overall lifestyle.
“We have listened to veterans, ex-service organisations and the wider ex-service community about the role psychiatric assistance dogs can play in the lives of veterans with PTSD,” Mr Chester said.
RSL Queensland District President (Sunshine Coast), Mr Ian Hall, who has experienced PTSD, said he can personally vouch for the healing bond between a veteran and their pooch.
“Our four legged mates are not only trained to support the soldier in times of conflict but inevitably can bolster flagging spirits in times of personal turmoil,” he said.
“SmartPups is currently recognised as a leading authority and provider of dogs for assisting children with various challenges, and I have no doubt that their expertise will greatly benefit our veteran community as well.”
Veterans currently seeking treatment for PTSD are encouraged to speak to their mental health professional in regards to gaining access to an assistance dog, or for more information visit www.dva.gov.au/health-and-wellbeing/rehabilitation/assistance-dogs