A new program where ‘man’s best friend’ works to ease Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptoms is proving to be life-changing for Australian Defence Force (ADF) returning veterans like Chris Rapson. Operation K9, a joint program between the Royal Society for the Blind (RSB) and the Returned & Services League (RSL-SA), pairs specially trained dogs with veterans living with PTSD to support their independence and social interactions.
After two deployments to Afghanistan, 32-year-old Chris was left anxious and stressed following his first combat tour to the war-torn country in 2008.“It was tough. 107mm rockets with accurate precision would be launched at us during our deployment. Three of my friends died over the course of the OP SLIPPER campaign,” he says.
While Chris’ tour would eventually come to an end, the battle to continue with life post-deployment had only just begun. “I returned home and things were different. My partner at the time and I broke up and I constantly felt stressed and anxious,” he says.
Finding the strength to reach out for help, Chris heard of the RSB and RSL’s Operation K9 program where he met Perry – a two-year-old Labrador cross Golden Retriever – who would quite literally change Chris’ life in a matter of a couple of months. “I wish I had Perry sooner,” Chris says. “I had a nervous habit where I’d rub the back of my neck, but since getting Perry, I rarely do that because he’s trained to notice the signs if something isn’t right,” he adds.
Along with being a constant companion, RSB Assistance Dog Instructor, Ann Spader, says dogs, like Perry, are trained to assist with the physical and psychological needs a client may have. “They can retrieve dropped items, turn on lights and open doors – both literally and figuratively,” Ann says.
With the help of the RSB and RSL, Chris is now breaking the stigma attached to PTSD, but claims there are many returning veterans nation-wide who can benefit from the program. “I’d like to acknowledge everything that both the RSB and my unit (JMCO Adelaide) has done to facilitate getting Perry, and make things as smooth as possible given Defence is still trying to work out the best way to get these dogs to members that aids both the dog and the member,” he says.
“Operation K9 has helped me a lot; it’s a program that needs to go national. I hope my story somehow helps get the message out there to fund more of these beautiful dogs through this life-changing program.”
Four dogs have already been successfully trained by the RSB Guide & Assistance Dogs Service under the Operation K9 initiative.