A little help from man’s best friend
Navy veteran’s life changed with a service dog
This is a story about a man, his dog and the relationship between the two.
Before Ian White got Shiloh, a two-year-old German shepherd, his life was void of public interaction.
Speaking in the living room of his Shearstown home, the 44year-old Navy veteran details a life where he could spend only minutes inside or amongst people before having to retreat to the relative comfort of his vehicle.
“If I needed groceries, I’d have to call my friend to go to the grocery story,” said White, who struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
A 21-year member of the military, he was uncomfortable in crowds. There are still instances when he is today, but that’s less of a problem today.
Essentially, White lost his freedom and became a recluse, only coming out of his home when he absolutely needed to.
He was on three different kinds of medication aimed at controlling his depression.
That was until a year ago. That’s when his doctor recommended White look at getting a service dog. That was when he got Shiloh.
“(Shiloh) has been a life changer,” he said.
While he still takes medication — White is down to one pill — his friendship, and his life, with Shiloh has taken on a new meaning.
“With her, I can go into the malls, I can go into the grocery store or into Tim Hortons,” he said. “I can take my time and talk to people.”
Shiloh can sense when her owner is in distress. While in public, she will stand between White and a person.
It provides him with the separation necessary to avoid mental distress.
“She is trained to keep space around me,” he said.
There are times Shiloh will sit facing behind White because that is where the people are. If they are in a crowd, she will circle her owner in hopes of providing that barrier to multiple people.
“There are times she will pull me out of a building,” he said.
Although Shiloh is not on the job when she is at home, she is still on duty. Shiloh will sit on the loveseat across from the couch in White’s living room.
Keeping a watchful eye on her owner, the dog can perceive when he is in distress or upset. When this happens, Shiloh is at White’s side to calm him down.
“(Shiloh) wakes me from nightmares, if I have flashbacks she will take me out of them,” he said.
Perception is everything
There are still challenges to deal with publicly, and they are not always PTSD related. Sometimes, it’s the general public itself.
People have approached White during public events, like the Remembrance Day ceremony in Bay Roberts, and questioned whether he truly needs his service dog.
The latest incident happened at a local McDonalds when a customer requested to see Shiloh’s papers and any other information White could give him. Shiloh was wearing her service vest at the time.
The pestering got so bad White had to just grab his meal and leave as quickly as he could.
“There was a time, I was getting three times a week, ‘ You’re not blind why do you have a dog?’”
It is a perception that needs to change for White and others who have service dogs but are not visually impaired.
“When Shiloh has the vest on, she is
working,” said White.
Struggles with PTSD
Struggles with PTSD never truly go away. There is constantly the threat of being stricken with symptoms.
White started experiencing signs of the disease in 1998 and for the next decade was treated for depression. He was formally diagnosed with PTSD in 2010. That was also the year he left the military.
The smallest thing can set off his illness, especially children. White was stationed in Somalia in the 1990s. Children were regularly used as soldiers there.
He remembers driving through Harbour Grace when he had a flashback. White saw a group of children on the side of the road with NERF guns.
“I knew they were NERF guns because I saw them down at their side,” he said. “But, as soon as they pointed them at me I went right back over there.”
White has trouble watching some war movies, especially “Black Hawk Down” and “Captain Phillips,” because of how they make him feel.
“There are some I can watch in pieces,” he said.
In 2012, the provincial government got on board. It replaced the Blind Person’s Rights Act with the Service Animal Act.
Last month, the federal government committed to spending $200 million over the course of several years and $16.7 million for ongoing programs to enable greater support for Canadian Forces members and veterans struggling with mental illness, as well as their families.
Despite this, White said the issue of service dogs for veterans is now the subject of a study and there is more that could be done.
“I’m lucky with the support I’m getting but there are guys out there waiting for eight or nine months for any help,” he said.
White regularly gives Shiloh a day off. He routinely brings her to Terra Nova Kennels in Roaches Line where she can work off any pent up energy.
“She loves to play ball and stuff,” he said. “When she has the vest on she is business. I call her Jekyll and Hyde.”
Ian White and his service dog Shiloh.
Situations like walking through the T.C. Square Mall in Carbonear were impossible for Ian White (left) to handle before he met his service dog Shiloh. White suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and can find it difficult to be in large crowds.