Veterans struggling with PTSD speak out about benefits of service dogs

HALIFAX – This past year has been one of recovery for Kim Gingell, who served 29 years with the Canadian Armed Forces as a full-time reservist.

She says she was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in 2001 after a tour in Sierra Leone. For the past 12 years, she struggled with a condition so debilitating, she says she couldn’t leave her house.

“Alcohol abuse became a big factor in my life, and I just wasn’t coping with anything. I’d just stay in bed all day and I had no life,” said Gingell.

She says her life changed about a year ago when she was paired with Omega, a PTSD service dog.

“I feel more like myself, I can do things, I can get out of the house, I stopped drinking,” she said.

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“I feel like, that light at the end of the tunnel? I’m there, I’m okay.”

Gingell is one of 33 veterans who have already benefited from Paws Fur Thought, a program that pairs veterans with service dogs.

Retired Capt. Medic Cousineau is the program’s co-founder. He too struggled with PTSD and says having his service dog, Thai, at his side has been a “gift.”

“In a very few short months, she’d had such a dramatic impact on my life that I knew I had to help others get the kind of help that I’ve had,” he said.

The program was created less than two years ago, and has already been recognized nationally. Cousineau has been the recipient of several awards, including the Nova Scotia Mental Health Association’s Inspiring Lives Award.

Several groups across the country have also raised funds to help the program.

“What it shows me, and I guess helps make my boots light and my heart even lighter, is that people really understand what we’re doing,” said Cousineau.

Cousineau is now looking to expand the program’s reach to include emergency responders and assault and abuse survivors.

“Those are all communities where PTSD can show up, and they need the exact same kind of help,” he said.

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He’s hoping more organization will step up and help.

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