Service dog being trained on Gabriola for veteran with PTSD

Derek Kilbourn

Sounder News

Monday, February 24 2014

For the next couple of weeks, Gabriola will be the training site for a dog that is learning to be a service dog for a Canadian veteran.

Gabriolan Vicki McDonald, who is a certified dog trainer, works with Citadel Canine Society, which has the mission of providing service and companion dogs for military and first responder veterans.

The current dog that she’s training is Sasha, a mixed breed (collie/elkhound) rescue dog from Saskatoon.

McDonald said, “What we specialize in is to assist veterans with PTSD (post-traumatic-stress-disorder) that can encompass a range of needs.

“There’s a huge emotional component to [the disorder]. The dogs also help the veterans when they have night terrors or anxiety attacks, nightmares that kind of thing.”

Some of the dogs are also trained to keep a space around the owner if he/she is claustrophobic in public.

McDonald said, “A lot of it is remarkably instinctive, and we can work with it if we know the condition that the prospective owner needs help with.

“For example...I can have pretend naps with nightmares and have Sasha put her nose in my face.

“It’s amazing how instinctive it is.”

Placements are permanent.

“What we’ve seen with the dogs is that a lot of the veterans who have assistance dogs either reduce or eliminate a lot of their medications,” said McDonald.

“It’s quite incredible, the effect they [the dogs] have.”

Once Sasha is trained on her own, McDonald will take her to meet the veteran. The team will then work together to meet the criteria required for a certified service card from the BC Government.

The dogs have legal status with their certification and are permitted on planes and such places as in elevators and malls.

Not all the dogs trained by McDonald and Citadel are large breeds like Sasha.

McDonald explained it’s all about matching up the right dog with the person.

She said there was a veteran recently who already owned a shih-tzu that was then taken through the training process to become certified.

“A lot of times the pets [that] people have aren’t the right material, but this one worked out that way.”

McDonald said she hopes islanders will be welcoming to Sasha when she is brought into stores and different locations to be familiarized with crowds and a variety of situations.

Although islanders are cautioned to treat Sasha like any other service dog and not try to pet her or feed her without McDonald’s permission. 

Citadel is a registered charity and McDonald said donations are always appreciated.

“The dogs that we provide, we don’t charge for. The veterans don’t have to pay for the dog or the training.”

For those interested in her regular dog training classes, or to find out more about Citadel Canine Service dogs, contact McDonald here on Gabriola.