A Qualicum-based non-profit organization is matching rescue dogs with military veterans and others struggling with ‘invisible injuries’ such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
By leveraging the power of canine-human relationships, Vancouver Island Compassion Dogs can help a person soldier on and reintegrate into community life.
Courtenay resident Luke Levesque and his four-year-old British labrador, Angel, are the first graduates of the program.
Levesque is a retired member of the Canadian Armed Forces who was a Search and Rescue Technician (SAR Tech) with the air force. He has trained Angel in various urban environments, including pubs, hotels and ferry terminals.
“It’s getting the dog to perform in a proper manner in public places and listen to its master,” he said, noting a year’s worth of obedience and life skills training helps “fine-tune the dog to the owner.”
Levesque is an outdoorsman who is relatively new to the Valley, where he has a 23-year-old son.
He and Angel participated on an individual basis in the recent search for missing hiker Sylvia Apps, who was last seen July 11 south on Castlecrag Mountain.
While Levesque has owned Angel since she was a puppy, most others in the program are matched with a dog.
“It works well if you like dogs,” he said of the program.
The 52-week program allows veterans and dogs to work and learn at their own pace. At the completion of each step, clients receive a badge for the dog to wear on a vest.
“There’s a lot of obedience to learn, a lot of training,” said VICD president Barb Ashmeade, noting labs are easy to train and “extremely loyal.”
The program — just in its second year — also uses a Maltese and a Doberman pinscher.
Along with companionship, trained dogs can help veterans cope with nightmares or pull them back from flashbacks.
“Not many people know about this kind of stress,” Levesque said.
The program provides leashes, dog food and fuel for driving to the twice-weekly classes. The organization, however, needs to raise money to cover training costs for vets and dogs, estimated at a minimum of $10,000 per year per person.
BC Guide Dog Services is as a mentor to the program, which does not receive funding from Veterans Affairs. Its charity status is pending.
The long-term goal is to become a member of Assistance Dogs International, estimated to be a five-year process.
This year, Vancouver Island Compassion Dogs will manage the Park & Ride at 1475 Noel Ave. in Comox during the Filberg Festival on the B.C. Day weekend.
The volunteers will be accepting donations on behalf of the charity at the Park & Ride.
For more information about Vancouver Island Compassion Dogs, vicompassiondogs.ca/.