RCMP veteran Patti Urquhart and Vancouver Island Compassion Dogs co-founder Mike Annan at the merger announcement on Thursday, Aug. 16. (Grace Kennedy photo)

Lower Mainland graduation marks expansion of PTSD service dog program

Vancouver Island Compassion Dogs and B.C. and Alberta Guide Dogs Society merging to help more veterans

It was Patti Urquhart’s graduation, but she didn’t have a cap on her head. Instead, she had a leash in her hand.

The Langley resident and former RCMP member was standing on the back porch at the B.C. and Alberta Guide Dogs Society in Delta on Thursday (Aug. 16), celebrating her graduation from Vancouver Island Compassion Dogs’ year-long service dog program.

Since 2005, Urquhart had been suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, a condition that can develop after exposure to traumatic situations and is especially common in military and RCMP veterans. Symptoms of PTSD vary, but can include flashbacks of the traumatic event, feeling constantly on edge, difficulty concentrating, becoming reclusive and developing insomnia.

RELATED: Learn about your illness, have power over it: Cloverdale resident Alice Fox on living with PTSD

After 12 years with PTSD, Urquhart said, she “just wasn’t functioning at all.” Her doctor and psychologist suggested a dog could help her deal with her condition. She turned to the Vancouver Island Compassion Dogs program, which helps veterans and RCMP members suffering with PTSD become part of a service dog team in order to help them reconnect with themselves and their community.

Over the course of the past year, Urquhart had worked with a yellow lab named Tiaa to become a B.C. Certified Stress Injury Service and Support Dog team.

“She just, right from the very beginning, had that total understanding in my eyes,” Urquhart said, Tiaa sitting quietly by her side. “I can have a question in my mind, and I just stare at her and I just process it because we’re together. And it’s like the approval that I need, you know?

“Like, Tiaa,” she added, looking down at Tiaa. “Should we go for a walk?”

Tiaa looked up, and touched her nose to the leash in Urquhart’s hand.

“There’s my leash,” Urquhart said. “Tiaa, can you sit? That’s a good girl. You lay down? Tiaa? Down. That’s my good girl.”

At each request, Tiaa sat or lay down on the porch, quiet and calm (and only glancing occasionally at the graduation cake in Urquhart’s hand).

Having that approval and unconditional love from Tiaa has been key for Urquhart in feeling like she could become a part of her community again.

“It built my confidence,” she said. “A year ago, there was no way I would be out here talking to people.”

But having a dog is also a grounding experience for people who might be feeling trapped in their past traumatic experiences.

“It’s that fur therapy. It’s getting into the here-and-now,” she explained. “You have to get into the here-and-now because they’re touching you, they’re kissing you. It forces you back into the reality of ‘this is life, and we’re together and I’m not going to leave you.’”

Urquhart is one of more than 25 veterans that have graduated from the Vancouver Island charity’s program. But she is the first one to graduate in the Lower Mainland, and her convocation ceremony marked the start of the official amalgamation of Vancouver Island Compassion Dogs and the B.C. and Alberta Guide Dogs Society.

“We like to say we’ve been a partner school right from the beginning,” Compassion Dogs’ executive director Mike Annan said at the ceremony. “The amalgamation just completes our two schools [coming] together, as a celebration of what we’ve accomplished.”

The merger, which will see the two groups officially become one agency, will help the Vancouver Island charity bring the program to veterans in the Lower Mainland.

“We’ve proved our model on Vancouver Island,” Annan said. “Now we’re here with our first graduate [in the Lower Mainland], and an intake of three clients starting training at the end of this month.”

Having a support network of locals is important for the people in the service dog program, explained Stephane Marcotte. The Victoria resident graduated with his yellow lab Sarje 14 months ago, and has been a mentor in the program since then.

“We become a family almost,” Marcotte said. “As a veteran, we need to have a belonging because we don’t do what we used to do in the military or the RCMP.

“We used to have a big group,” he continued. “Now we’re not there no more. So it’s kind of a way to to bring us together.”

Urquhart agreed.

“We are all in the same place,” she said. “To be able to get together with so many other people that can confirm your same thoughts and your fears and the triggers, without even exchanging stories of where we came from, whether we were overseas or not. It just doesn’t matter.”

Now that she has graduated, Urquhart hopes she can become “one of the best mentors” for fellow veterans in the Lower Mainland.

“I just need to do that, to pass that along to my brothers and sisters in the military and the RCMP,” she said.

Urquhart had wanted to attend the memorial for former Mountie Krista Carle, which was taking place in Sidney that same day. Carle committed suicide on July 6 after a long struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder. Carle had long spoken out against systematic sexual harassment in the RCMP, working with fellow veterans Janet Merlo and Catherine Galliford to create change and accountability within the police service.

RELATED: Former B.C. Mountie who fought harassment in the force dies by suicide

“I really wanted to go,” Urquhart said about Carle’s memorial, “but I knew that I needed to do this, to share with a lot more people that it could help.

“It could have, probably, helped her,” she added about the program. “Because you have something else to live for.”

For more information on the PTSD service dog program, and how to apply to be part of it, visit vicompassiondogs.ca/program/.



grace.kennedy@northdeltareporter.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

 

Tiaa, a PTSD service dog, at the BC Guide Dogs announcement on Thursday, Aug. 16. (Grace Kennedy photo)

RCMP veteran Patti Urquhart and her PTSD service dog Tiaa. (Grace Kennedy photo)

Just Posted

Chilliwack prolific offender wanted yet again

B.C.-wide warrant issued for David Allen Geoghegan

One man, two women charged with stolen pickup downtown Chilliwack

None of the three have criminal history in B.C.

Chilliwack-Hope MP says new summer jobs grant application no longer includes ‘values test’

Those with anti-abortion beliefs left out last year because of requirement to respect the Charter

Enrolment, education assistant increases make for no surprises in updated school district budget

Amended budget reflects 2018-19 changes that were made after recieving provincial funds in Dec.

Prices still rising, Chilliwack real estate back in balanced territory

Local market is steadier compared to points west with higher increase in average sale price

VIDEO: Students in MAGA hats mock Native American at Indigenous Peoples March

Diocese in Kentucky says it is investigating the matter, caught on video by onlookers

CONSUMER REPORT: What to buy each month in 2019 to save money

Resolve to buy all of the things you want and need, but pay less money for them

Want to avoid the speculation tax on your vacant home? Rent it out, Horgan says

Premier John Horgan and Sheila Malcolmson say speculation and vacancy tax addresses homelessness

UPDATE: B.C. woman and boy, 6, found safe, RCMP confirm

Roseanne Supernault says both she and her six-year-old nephew are fine and she has contacted police

PHOTOS: Women’s Marches take to the streets across B.C. and beyond

Women and allies marched worldwide protesting violence against women, calling for equality

VIDEO: Giants wrap southern swing with 6-4 win in Spokane

The Lower Mainland-based hockey team defeated the Chiefs Friday night.

Anxiety in Alaska as endless aftershocks rattle residents

Seismologists expect the temblors to continue for months, although the frequency has lessened

Women’s March returns across the U.S. amid shutdown and controversy

The original march in 2017, the day after President Donald Trump’s inauguration, drew hundreds of thousands of people

Federal Liberals announce former B.C. MLA as new candidate in byelection

Richard Lee will face off against federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh

Most Read