Gemma had lost her own dog of 14 years, whom she had since leaving the Forces. She did not realise just how much help and support her dog gave to her. She felt alone, isolated and miserable with no hope of any kind of future as a result of her mental health issues and was unable to do simple things that some of us take for granted.
She would wake up every morning feeling like she hadn't slept because of the constant derogatory thoughts playing on repeat every night. She was exhausted all the time and completely resented having to leave her house. Living in constant fear, she was anxious and on edge waiting for something bad to happen. She wished she could just lock the door and never have to deal with anyone again.
But then one day she agreed to meet a friend for coffee. Her friend had heard about Veterans with Dogs and suggested that she should apply. Gemma's original thoughts were that her needs were not as important as others and that she wouldn’t be considered a worthy candidate, but that was not the case and so she applied.
Gemma came along to one of our Meet and Greets back in 2017, where she learnt about how the charity works and how the dogs are trained to do certain tasks for their veterans. She was fascinated by this and learnt that the bond between a dog and its owner is so important. That there must be trust and understanding, you are a partnership, and you work for each other. Her application was later on accepted.
In 2018, along came Ollie. After undergoing various checks and temperament tests, he was ready to join Gemma in his forever home. With lots of fun along the way, in 2019 the pair began their PALS training. Gemma did not realise it at the time but having Ollie had given her a routine again. It was difficult at times, but with support from our trainers, volunteers and other veterans, the pair overcame each challenge they were faced with.
“I have met so many wonderful people along the way who have offered and continue to offer their time freely to help us. I have learnt so much and formed lasting friendships. I am able to help others now which is really nice feeling.”
A year later in 2020, the pair qualified and Ollie is now a fully trained Assistance Dog for Gemma. He has been trained to detect signs of anxiety and alert Gemma before an attack, he reminds her to take her medication, wakes her from distressing sleep, settles her to sleep each night and wakes her every morning. He also identifies changes in mood and alerts Gemma so she can make necessary changes and interrupts dissociation. Ollie makes Gemma feel safe whilst living alone (although he’s no guard dog she mentions but he does help!)
Gemma has recently developed a physical problem and sometimes needs Ollie’s help picking things up, bringing her things and helping her take off her jacket etc. So, the pair are currently focusing on developing these tasks and continuing their training to maintain their high standard.
“My problems are still there but they are greatly reduced, and I have the confidence to attempt things I wouldn’t do on my own. My whole routine has changed, not only have I changed mentally but also physically. Ollie has walked me so much I have lost weight and become fitter, I don’t lie in bed dreading the day anymore. Together we just get on with it, and deal with what comes our way.
I cannot thank Veterans with Dogs enough for recognising my needs and believing in me. The work they do really is remarkable and means so much to all of us. I can never repay them enough, but I will do what I can. I am here for other veterans, to help them along the way and support the charity as they continue to support me.”
Would you like to help us make a huge difference to Veterans with mental health difficulties resulting from military service? Click here to find out how you can get involved.