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Traumatised servicemen helped by dogs

Dogs are helping traumatised servicemen
Photo: Dogs are helping traumatised servicemen
Traumatised former servicemen are being helped by dogs who comfort them, retrieve their medication and even turn on the lights.

A dog turns on a light and a traumatised digger can now walk into the room.

Another dog does the laundry, while a third retrieves medication that the former serviceman can't remember to take.

The canines are trained post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) service dogs, available at no cost to former serving Australian Defence Force personnel.

Blue heeler Whiskey helped save the life of Scott Jackman after he was medically discharged on his return to Brisbane from Afghanistan in 2012.

He suffered back and neck injuries, PTSD and depression after falling off the side of a mountain while on night patrol.
He became very isolated, abused alcohol and medication, and had his family walking on egg shells, says his wife Liz Jackson.

But Whiskey, trained by Bathurst Correctional Centre inmates, "played a very important role in saving Scott's life", including getting him out of bed, and out and about.

When the dog died of cancer last October, the devastated couple founded Whiskey's Wish, a not-for-profit organisation training and supplying PTSD service dogs.

Fifteen people have already received dogs that can also be trained for "first responders", like police or other emergency services personnel, with PTSD.

Ms Jackson spoke to AAP ahead of the PTSD15 forum, being held in Brisbane on Friday and Saturday.

The dogs, which have public access rights, have to perform three services that mitigate a person's disabilities.

"The big one is creating a buffer and safety zone for the recipients," Ms Jackson said.

At the command of "front", the dog will sit beside and face the person, discouraging anyone coming towards them from patting the canine or engaging the person.

"A lot of these diggers don't want people approaching them - they don't like to be crowded, they don't like people in their face," Ms Jackson said.

Alarms can be set to go off for a dog to retrieve medication at the prescribed times, as many veterans have short-term memory loss.

If they are out, the medication can be carried in the dog's jacket.

"Dogs can be trained to turn on the lights - a lot of veterans don't like going into dark rooms," Ms Jackson said.

"Some veterans are hyper-vigilant and dogs can be trained to do a sweep of the house.

"They go ahead and check every room and bark to alert the person if something is out of place."

One veteran can't do his laundry, so a dog has been trained to put the clothes - kept in a low-down basket - into the machine and turn it on.

Ms Jackson said some recipients wanted something done about their nightmares, but dogs could not be trained in this area.

"Dogs just naturally do it themselves - they can comfort people," she said.

"When Scott becomes upset, his (new dog) Roxy can sense it and essentially she starts to howl and his attention is diverted to comfort her."


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