MEET Bella, a beautiful Nordic cross, who is going to become a specialist Post Traumatic Stress Disorder assistance dog.
She is one of the animals taking part in a programme run by Service Dogs UK, which helps veterans of the emergency services and Armed Forces who have PTSD.
The charity selects rescue dogs and trains them to become assistance dogs, but with a twist – under the guidance of professional trainers, veterans who join the programme effectively coach these dogs themselves for 9-12 months, becoming unique partnerships.
Bella came from Dogs Trust and spent a month under assessment with an Army family who fostered her. Laura, her husband Cpl Martin and their children took her on to see if she had what it takes to become an assistance dog.
During this time she was looked after as one of the family, with bells on. “It was an absolute pleasure to be part of something so special,” said Laura.
Bella has now been partnered with Army veteran Terry, for whom life has already changed a lot. Too many quiet moments are a thing of the past, as Bella is quite a chatterbox, often ‘talking’ to Terry – and he loves it.
He said: “Before the programme I often wouldn’t go out for days on end. Now I know I need to take her out and we sit there listening to the crash of the waves on the beaches – it really helps take my mind off things.”
Both Terry and Bella still have lots of training to do, skills to learn to get to know each other inside out and, most importantly, to become the very best of friends.
The programme has helped convert Bella from rescue to assistance dog and taught Terry to cope with his daily battles in a different way.
He added: “She has given me confidence with talking to people. I get anxious when I am out and about and if I know she’s there it seems more doable.
“At home, Bella gets me out of my moods – she distracts me by bringing the ball or with cuddles.”
Service Dogs UK is currently looking for veterans with PTSD in West Sussex, Surrey and East and North Hampshire to take part in its programme. For more information, visit servicedogsuk.org