A once homeless hound has successfully finished training as a Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Assistance Dog and is now transforming the life of a soldier with the condition.
Spaniel Cross, Cassie, arrived at Dogs Trust last year and Assistance Manager Rebecca Smith spotted that she had the qualities required to become an assistance dog.
Rebecca comments, “She was very people focused, confident and curious but also very gentle so when Service Dogs UK approached us, we introduced them to her and they agreed she could do really well, so off she went to begin her new adventure!”
After completing nine months of training alongside soldier Shaun Faulkner, Cassie has graduated and is now by Shaun’s side day and night.
Shaun joined the army in 2003, aged 16, and completed four tours of Iraq and Afghanistan before becoming a corporal in 2014. It was after the tours that Shaun started to suffer nightmares, flashbacks and panic attacks from the rocket and mortar fire he had experienced.
Shaun was diagnosed with PTSD in 2015 and as well as causing him distress, the symptoms made it difficult to leave the house, meaning he missed out on family life with his wife and their four children. Then he saw an advert for Service Dogs UK, a charity which partners veterans with dogs from rescue centres.
Shaun says, “My symptoms were affecting me and my family every single day. I’d go to the supermarket and just stand there, forgetting what I was there for. I saw the advert and it really appealed to me as I’ve had dogs all my life. I am passionate about rescue dogs. It’s not their fault they are in the situation they are in, and that was the same for me.”
For Shaun and two-year-old Cassie it was a match made in heaven, as Shaun describes, “It might sound like a cliché but it really was love at first sight. She jumped on my knee and started licking me. She has transformed my life and I can’t imagine life without her. She makes doing the ordinary, everyday things that were becoming impossible, possible. Without her, I would be a recluse.”
Cassie has been trained to respond to a medication alarm reminder and provide support during difficult times. Shaun is now happy to leave the house with Cassie by his side.
He says, “She recognises when I’m anxious or upset and will come and sit by me or climb on my knee which snaps me out of it. She changes my focus and also gives me comfort.
“Every night she lies across my feet in bed which is very calming and has reduced the number of nightmares I have, but if I do have nightmares she licks my face and if that doesn’t work she will gently paw at my face until I wake up.
“When we’re out I call her my furry barrier! She stands behind me at cash machines and if I am in a supermarket her just being there helps prevent people crowding me which reduces my anxiety.”
Judith Broug, who founded Service Dogs UK with Garry Botterill in 2015, says, “Like many people who have been diagnosed with PTSD, before Shaun met Cassie he felt isolated, depressed and was struggling at times with daily life and relationships.
“Cassie has given Shaun a sense of purpose again and independence. She gives him a routine to the day and taking her for walks means he gets physical exercise too which helps battle some of the PTSD symptoms.
“Building a successful partnership and going through the training together is really rewarding and it gives veterans and their dog a great sense of achievement.
“Shaun and Cassie are an amazing team and the difference she has made to Shaun’s life is incredible. They graduated to become our fifth PTSD Assistant Dog Partnership and it was a very proud moment for us all.”
As well as Cassie being Shaun’s four-legged friend, she has settled into family life.
Shaun adds, “The kids love her and we have a great time going out together. She loves nothing more than splashing about in muddy puddles, but she senses when I need her and she’s always there, without fail.”