Training rescue dogs to help first responders with PTSD
For Andrew Hammond, every day was a nightmare.
"I was basically nto functioning on a day-to-day basis," says the Ottawa police officer.
"I wasn't eating, my memory isn't particularly good...I have a lot of flashbacks and intrusive thoughts, and anxiety attacks as well."
Hammond suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, and major depression. He's been off work since October.
Desperate to find some relief, Hammond tried to get a service dog. However, the wait list was almost two years.
So Hammond found a woman who trained rescue dogs. From her, he received Ruby, a german shepherd, who's brought structure to his life.
"I have to get up to feed her, I have to take her out and with the bond we have now, if I go out in public, she's with me. She doesn't leave my side and it's changed my life completely."
Inspired by his new companion, Hammond started Centurion K9, a program that trains rescues to become service dogs for other officers suffering from PTSD.
It's only been operating for two months, but the program already has four dogs.
Debra Scharf helps choose and train the dogs. She's also the one who gave Ruby to Hammond.
"If' somebody's having a bad moment, the dog comes over and gets on their knee, and refocuses their anxiety to actually focus it on the dog."
Those involved are still learning about what needs to be done. Only rescue dogs are being used for the program and Scharf has to be selective about which ones she chooses. The group is using the police training facility at Algonquin College to help train the dogs.
Cst. Cameron Downie was asked by Hammond to get involved. A dog owner himself, Downie is now a volunteer handler who's fostering one of the service dogs in the program.
"It's not us saving them all the time, sometimes it's them saving us," he says.
"The difference it makes to people to have the dog around, it's noticeable and it's meaningful."
For now, the dogs are just being trained for other officers. Hammond is hoping to be able to provide them to all first responders in the future, as well as military officers.
The group is currently paying for the entire program themselves. To find out more or to make a donation, click here.