A lit­tle help from man’s best friend

Navy veteran’s life changed with a ser­vice dog

The Compass - - FRONT PAGE - BY NI­CHOLAS MERCER

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.

Help­ing out

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.

Gov­ern­ment aid

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.”

Photo by Ni­cholas Mercer/The Com­pass

Ian White and his ser­vice dog Shiloh.

Photo by Ni­cholas Mercer/The Com­pass

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.

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