TWO army veterans passed through Mildura this week en route to the Western Australia border where they will deliver five assistance support dogs, provided by the Dogs for Life organisation in Melbourne, which will be given to veterans who are experiencing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Dogs for Life is focused on working with specifically trained dogs within mutually defined programs to assist those suffering with PTSD achieve predefined therapeutic goals and to create a lasting partnership that aims to maintain and improve their quality of life, enhance their independence and facilitate their increased participation in society.

PTSD support dogs are trained to reduce the impact of specific symptoms for people living with this condition and can help guide those living with trauma back to a sense of safety, helping to improve interpersonal connections and regain areas of functioning that may have been diminished by their trauma.

Montmorency Eltham RSL’s vice president Andrew Hall and president Glen Ferrarotto have been tasked with the job of driving the dogs to the WA border, where they will be handed over ready to be given to their new owners.

Andrew said that there had been some tearful moments when the dogs were released from the foster family’s care.

“When the animals were handed over from their adoptive parents there were some tears and they were sad to see them leave,” he said.

“They obviously form a close attachment to the dogs during the time they have been caring for them.

“We have come from Melbourne today, bound for the Western Australia border with the five dogs plus mine. I have an assistance dog and of course she’s coming with me on the trip.”

Andrew said that because he was a veteran with an assistance dog, Dog’s for Life had approached him to take the animals to WA.

“The company just hasn’t got any time off and so they rang me and said ‘hey you’re a vet, can you do this?’ and I said that sounds like a great trip for a good cause,” he said.

“It’s like taking six kids – six babies – across the Nullabor!

“These dogs were literally only handed over from their adoptive parents this morning and so they are bit loose and funny but they will be fine.

“They spend between 12 and 16 months with their adoptive parents and during that time they are getting used to walking and being around other dogs.

“Once in Perth they will spend the next 12 months with the veteran and a trainer. I still go to a trainer with my Lola. The trainers in WA are ready for them and our job is to deliver them safely.”

Andrew was asked what makes the assistance dogs such a valuable companion for veterans.

“They do everything for you. They’re like your best friend,” he said.

“Lola can look at me and know when it’s time for me to remove myself from a situation. She will wake me up if I am having a bad night.

“You don’t have to be a veteran with a mental health issue to know that dogs are going to be good for everyone.”

Andrew’s travelling mate Glen, who is also on the board of the RSL Victoria, served more than 10 years in the Australian Army, including two deployments to Afghanistan with the Special Operations Taskforce said that providing these assistance dogs is a wonderful program.

“We have some veterans in Perth who are in need and have been waiting patiently for these animals for a long time − upwards of three months,” he said.

“The dogs should have been in WA by now, but with border closures and travel restrictions due to COVID their delivery has been delayed.

“Even though the airlines are now operating, the infrequency of flights and the fact that these dogs can’t travel unaccompanied and consideration of the animal’s welfare has to be given, it made sense to drive these animals across to WA.

“By doing this trip the animals will now get there more than a month earlier than they otherwise would have.”

Glen said the assistance dogs help to give the vets something to get out of bed for.

“Having the dog gives the veteran a sense of purpose and responsibility in their lives after they take the uniform off,” he said.

“That is one of the most challenging things they face. As well as looking after their welfare, they are alert to picking up cues when higher level of stress comes about, they might hear a noise or a smell that they know is a trigger for the veteran and they will make sure the veteran is sitting down and moved away from a noisy environment or a crowd.

“It also gives the individual a reason to be getting out of bed every morning, the responsibility to feed and water their animal and to take them for a walk and to leave the pub sooner than they might have because they have to get their dog home to feed them – it’s a holistic and a really good thing.”

Mildura veteran Josh Fraser is looking forward to receiving his assistance dog in the future. He recently completed an application receive an assistance dog. This may take up to 18 months to be fulfilled, while his dog undergoes training in the care of a foster family.

“I am just at the beginning of the process and have had the forms from the DVA approved just before Christmas last year,” he said.

“They told me that was all in order and that I would hear from a provider and about a week later I had a phone call to confirm that and then I took part in a two-hour video conference which covered everything and it has been given the tick of approval.

“DVA said that it can take between 12 to 18 months normally before your dog arrives.

“Before that I will undergo 30 hours of training with another dog and a trainer in Bendigo or Ballarat.”

Josh served his nation in the Philippines in the Second Commando Regiment and from there he was deployed to the Middle East in 2014, when ISIS was starting to emerge.

“I basically received a phone call at 12 o’clock at night and I was in country the next day,” he said.

“After serving overseas I was medically discharged in September, 2019.”

– JOHN DOOLEY