WINNIPEG — For many people a dog is just a pet, but for dozens of veterans who have been helped through a made-in-Manitoba program, their pups become guardian angels.
Courageous Companions is a project that provides specially trained service dogs to veterans who are struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other disabilities.
The dogs are rescued from shelters and First Nations communities and then trained by volunteers.
Capt. George Leonard, search commander and master trainer with MSAR (formerly known as the Manitoba Search and Rescue Association), launched the program in 2005.
Since it started, MSAR has been able to train and donate more than 325 free service dogs to those in need. Among them, 82 dogs are trained to help soldiers with PTSD, and 23 have been placed with soldiers in Manitoba.
Master Cpl. Bill Nachuk has been in the military for 16 years and served in Israel, Bosnia and Afghanistan.
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When Nachuck came back to Canada he was diagnosed with major depression disorder, PTSD and anger issues.
Without his service dog, Gambler, he likely wouldn’t still be alive, he said.
“I went from four times in six months of suicidal threats and attempts, being almost kicked out of the military, addictions to alcohol and gambling” to being active and out in the community, he said.
The program receives no government funding and is in desperate need of money. Currently there are more than 60 soldiers on a waiting list to get placed with a dog.
“We need money, we need a minivan, we need all the help we can get,” said Leonard.
The three different levels of training cost tens of thousands of dollars and a Level 3 service dog can cost upwards of $100,000 if you were to buy it outright.
MSAR has teamed up with Winnipeg Blue Bomber Chris Cvetkovic and his non-profit charity Cvet’s Pets.
Cvet’s Pets covers the cost of the starter kits that are given to each veteran who receives a service dog.
The kits cost more than $1,000 and include things like a kennel, collar, leash and dog bed.
If you would like to help the Courageous Companions program please contact MSAR.ca for more information on how and where to donate.
Cvetkovic is also raising funds by selling “Cvet’s Pets Helping Vets” T-shirts, which can be purchased at the Bomber Store at Investors Group Field.
To donate go to www.cvetspets.com.