October 11, 2016 7:57 pm
Updated: October 11, 2016 8:02 pm

Meet Zakk: Alberta service dog graduates program to help first responders with PTSD

WATCH ABOVE: Meet Zakk. He's the first service dog to graduate from Hope Heels with a unique mission - to assist a first responder who suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

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An Edmonton-based organization looking to help first responders with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) says it hopes to see its program grow dramatically now that a dog has become the first to graduate from its service dog program.

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“This first graduate for Hope Heels is amazing,” Kristine Aanderson, Hope Heels board chair, said on Tuesday. “To be able to see all the hard work that all our volunteers do really come to fruition with the pairing of this dog and this first responder – who needs him so much…(it’s) just amazing to see everything come together.”

READ MORE: Veterans struggling with PTSD speak out about benefits of service dogs

Now that Zakk has recently become the first-ever Hope Heels service dog, he has been paired with a first responder to do things like bumping his handler with his nose to alert him when he becomes too anxious and “lean in” to help calm him.

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“I’m just an animal enthusiast and I wanted to find a way to give back,” Renee Pollon, who trained Zakk and is also Hope Heels’ training coordinator, said. “I think it’s amazing what these dogs can do to change people’s lives and I just wanted to be a part of that.”

Pollon added that while Zakk’s pairing with someone with PTSD is a significant milestone, much more is needed to ensure the program produces more service dog graduates.

“We really need volunteer puppy raisers where you take the dog, you do the training and the dog lives in your home. We need volunteers on many different levels and we also need donations.”

Renee Pollon, who trained Zakk and is also Hope Heels’ training coordinator, walks with the service dog on Oct. 11, 2016.

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On Tuesday, Pollon said recently handing Zakk over to his new handler felt “absolutely amazing.”

READ MORE: Service dog gives Alberta woman living with anxiety new lease on life

“Just to see the look on his handler’s face when he looks at Zakk and how much they care about each other and what he’s already done in this short time to change his life.”

Hope Heels is run by a group of volunteers who look to help people with mental health disabilities train their own service dogs.

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