13 May 2014

Atlantic Innovation Showcase Spotlight Paws Fur Thought: Service Dogs for Veterans Battling PTSD

Medric and Thai
Terri Perrin
InfoStream Staff Writer

The 2014 Urban Animal Regional Conferences presented the second annual Innovation Showcases. Across the continent, 20 local Innovators were given the opportunity to share their stories and successes with Urban Animal subscribers. From those, eight were selected to present at the 2014 Summit for Urban Animal Strategies, October 22–25 in beautiful Lake Louise, Alberta.

Infostream staff writer Terri Perrin spoke with the winning presenters to get feedback on their Regional Conference experience, their respective ‘Pet Experiences’ and what we can expect from them at the Summit this fall. Terri tracked down retired Canadian Air Force Captain Medric Cousineau – known to friends and family as ‘Cous’ – at his home in Eastern Passage, Nova Scotia, to talk about his important work matching service dogs with retired military personnel. 

Infostream (IS): Before we get started with your ‘Summit Experience’, we’d love to know how your personal life and ‘Pet Experiences’ lead you to be an a champion for service dogs and soldiers. Tell us a little about your journey, including how (and when) you were partnered with your service dog ‘Thai’.

Medric Cousineau (MC): My life was punctuated by having dogs in our home while I was growing up. As an adult, I consider myself a ‘dog person’ and my wife Jocelyn a ‘cat person’. Due to an illness in the family, from 2001 to 2012 we didn’t have a dog but had four cats. The move towards getting a dog again stems from the fact that I have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) … a result of search and rescue work done in the military. I received the ‘Star of Courage’ for one particular incident and ironically, it was this incident that precipitated my downward spiral with PTSD.

In 2012, a friend learned how badly I was struggling. Her son had a hearing assist dog and the school he got the dog from also trained PTSD dogs. I was desperate. Something had to give. We decided to give it a whirl. It’s the best thing decision I ever made!

I got my service dog ‘Thai’ – a yellow Labrador – from Kansas-based Canine Assistance and Rehabilitation Education Services (CARES) on August 6th, 2012.

IS: Tell us about your first experience meeting Thai at CARES.

It was ‘love at first sight’... according to Thai! While all of the other dogs were wandering around the room kind of nonchalant, the second that Thai laid eyes on me she broke from her handler and rushed across the room. She was at my side, licking my face and on me like white on rice!  This is what she had been trained to do. She was aware of my physiological issues literally from the instant that  she was brought into the room … and she’s been doing her ‘job’ ever since.

IS: Can you give an example of how she helps you?

MC: One of her jobs is night terror intervention. It only took a few days for her to get into the swing of things and start waking me up during these episodes. A few weeks after I first got her, I woke up one morning and realized I hadn’t had a night terror … and I had a panic attack about that! (Laughs.) Thai helped me through that episode, too!

IS: How did you come up with the idea for the Paws Fur Thought Program?

MC: I knew within a couple of months that Thai was making dramatic changes in my life. Just after Christmas 2012,  Jocelyn and I  were out waking Thai. We decided that we had to do something to help others. To ensure accountability with funds raised, we approached the Nova Scotia Nunavut Command of the Royal Canadian Legion. They established the foundation and they administer all funds and provide tax receipts, as well as allocate the money to veterans so they can acquire dogs from accredited facilities. The name – Paws Fur Thought – is a play on words … basically meaning ‘dogs helping with mental issues’.

IS: How is it funded?

MC: We put together a ‘Walk to Sanity’ that started on August 1st, 2013. Thai and I averaged a ½ marathon every single day for 50 days. We walked across Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Ontario and Quebec ... raising money and awareness along the way. We covered 1,065 kilometres and raised about $90,000 from that. Other community partners have come on board. Global Pet Foods HRM’s, Lucie Larochelle, for example, heard one of our interviews on CBC. She named us the company’s ‘Show Us Your Heart’ chosen charity. Petcurean came on board as a result of Lucie’s participation and, from that, it is just starting to snowball!  We have a half dozen fundraising events coming up in the next few months.

IS: How is it that you came to be a presenter at the Atlantic Regional Summit?

MC:  I was shocked ... and pleasantly surprised … when PetLynx actually contacted me! Somebody had heard my story and said ‘Here’s a guy you need to listen to.’ I didn’t even realize the implications of what I had agreed to, in terms of the potential opportunities that would arise from it. When I learned that I would be going to Lake Louise, as an Innovation Showcase winner, it was like a dream come true! I get to tell people exactly what it is that we are trying to do. God smiled and said, “Go there and tell ‘em your story.” It could be being held anywhere in the world and I would be happy to go.

IS: Was this your first Summit for Urban Animal Strategies. What did you think about it?

MC:  For me, the networking was very important. Talking about animal sourcing and hearing some of the challenges within the industry was very interesting because it was something I’d never thought about before. A lot of what happens in the urban animal industry is about animal rescue. We were a little bit different in that we were using animals to rescue humans. I would rate the experience totally PAWsome!

IS: What do you hope to achieve by being an Innovation Showcase presenter at the national Summit in October?

MC:   While Paws Fur Thought is primarily focused on the military but the need for psychological service dogs covers what a group of communities. There are all kinds of places where PTSD can rear its ugly head. I like to refer to what I call ‘Red, White and Blue, A and A’. This represents fire fighters, emergency responders and RCMP (police), as well as assault and abuse survivors. I’m just one guy … a smashed up guy with serious mental health issues at that … and I know that I can’t do this all on my own. At the National Summit I am going to make an effort to find people who want to do what I have done. I will give the blueprint to repeat what we have done, so that they can go home and champion their own cause in their own communities.

During the interview, InfoStream learned that Cous and his service dog 
Thai had just received an Inspiring Lives Award from the Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia. 

1 comment: