“The thanks we want to give you is just beyond words. You are giving us a life— a life we lost”.
Dog owners would definitely agree that having a dog is one of the greatest things you can have in life. They may not be able to speak to us the way we do, but they surely have their own way to make us feel their unconditional love.
Most, if not all, veterans suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) after coming home from war, making them feel too overwhelmed with negative feelings and intense distress. For some, the recovery process would take months, while others would take years. But, however long the process may take, it all boils down to them having a support system that they can rely on. Thankfully, there is an existing organisation in Australia that specifically caters to this.
Defence Community Dogs is a nonprofit organisation whose goal is to improve the lives of the veterans one paw at a time.
In 2014, the Defence Community Dogs program was initiated in an effort to accomplish 3 main objectives: rescue dogs, rehabilitate inmates, and help rebuild the lives of serving and ex-serving Australian Defence Force members; thus Defence Community Dogs describe this initiative as a win-win-win program.
Every single dog the organisation is listing up for training is rescued or rehomed— in a way giving them another chance to be with someone who would care for them and treat them like family. With the supervision of professional dog trainers, these rescued dogs are then trained by inmates at the Bathurst Correctional Centre, NSW and the Numinbah Correctional Centre, QLD.
The impact that these dogs leave to the inmates is something that they would describe as “life-changing”. Over time, the bond between the inmate and their assigned dog gets stronger which also helps them get through their days in jail especially when everything around them is seemingly falling apart.
However, to be able to successfully accomplish the mission of the Defence Community Dogs program, they would eventually have to let go of these dogs and hand them over to the veterans who signed up for the program.
“When I handed my dog over to the veteran, it was quite bittersweet at the time where you miss your dog because it’s that companion that you have when you don’t really have much, but when you look at the bigger picture and you see the change that makes the veteran’s life, it makes it all worthwhile”.
Since Defence Community Dogs started the program, they have handed more than 50 trained dogs over to the veterans, free of charge. Meanwhile, the training cost for each dog to reach the Assistance Dog Level amounts to over $10,000. Defence Community Dogs does not receive any government funding, thus the program relies completely on donations, sponsorships, fundraising, and volunteering activities which is raised exclusively through the Defence Bank Foundation.
“The job does come with a lot of challenges, the things that you see and do. They certainly take a toll on you after a period of time. I'm man enough to admit that, yes, Lola has saved my life”, Michael Nobes, Navy Veteran who signed up for the Defence Community Dogs program.
Defence Community Dogs program is indeed a unique program that gives a second chance at life not only to the abandoned dogs and the inmates but, ultimately, it rebuilds the lives of the veterans.
“Defence Community Dogs to me… they save a dog’s life, they save a prisoner, and they save a veteran. Lola [service dog] was one day off being euthanized and now she’s saved my life”.
24 February is Purple Poppy Day. As we show our gratitude and remember the ultimate sacrifice our fallen war animals have paid, let us also acknowledge the services of our modern day four-legged heroes, and support them as they transform the lives of the Defence Force members.
Together, let us keep the spirit alive.