Rockland veteran Marc Lapointe says it’s okay to ask for help
Un vétéran de Rockland, Marc Lapointe, a fondé Audeamus, une organisation à but non lucratif qui forme et fournit des chiens d’assistance aux anciens combattants et aux premiers intervenants souffrant de PTSD. Audeamus est unique en son genre car il fournit des chiens de service sans frais, pour la vie du chien ou aussi longtemps que la personne en question a besoin d’aide. Ici, on peut reconnaître Marc Lapointe avec son chien d’assistance Sticker. “May we dare, may we venture, may we risk. May we be eager for battle.” This is the rough translation of the meaning of the Latin word Audeamus.
Audeamus can now also be referred to as a nonprofit organization that provides certified service dogs to those traumatized in the line of duty – ranging from Mild Traumatic Brain Injury, Major Depression, Diabetes, Seizures and Mobility and Hearing Impairment. Audeamus is an injured veteran-run charity, the program founder being Veteran Marc Lapointe, who served in the military for 25 years. Audeamus stays true to the origin of its name – reminding those who did indeed dare, venture, and risk their lives, that the battle does not end once off the battlefield.
“I’m from a military family of 14 generations back […] so I guess it’s in my blood,” said Marc Lapointe. “As long as I can remember, I had this urge of going into the forces, like a calling. I understood this calling to be natural.” Lapointe served 25 years in the military, in both the Canadian and American Special Forces. He suffered his first servicerelated injury on a tour in Bosnia in 1993, although he did not know it at the time. He went on to do three more tours after that: in Bosnia from 1999 to 2000, and two tours in Afghanistan in 2006 and in 2007.
“My last tour in 2007 was where I hit the wall,” explained Lapointe. “Without knowing it, I had accumulated 15 years of trauma.” Lapointe never believed in the need for therapy, growing up as a “tough guy,” until he realized he needed help himself and that he had no other choice. “I basically didn’t know what was going on, from being a full fighter kicking down doors and grabbing Taliban, to six months later being in a fetal position in my bed crying,” added Lapointe. “So, what happens from there? I pulled up my sleeves, because I am a fighter, and I went to get help.”
Lapointe started Audeamus barely two years ago and co-founded the program with Christopher Lohnes, an RCMP officer, whom he had met when they both were seeking help through a service dog organization. Lapointe volunteered for this program for three years, even becoming an Operations Officer and training and certifying others to be able to train service dogs. Lapointe and Lohnes eventually decided to pave their own way and the result is Audeamus. Within the last year and a half, Audeamus has gained ten doctors, several research professors from different universities, three lawyers from across the country, a full board of directors and executive committee comprised of 35-40 people and about 100-120 people active on the ground as part of the service dog teams – all of which are volunteers. There are also about 45 people in the process of entering the program or of receiving their service dog and another 15-20 people waiting for a dog to be found for them.
Audeamus is one of a kind as it provides service dogs to veterans, first responders and war correspondents at no cost for the life of the dog or for as long as the person in question still needs help. For the rest of the public, meaning anyone else outside of the line of duty that needs a service dog for PTSD, they will only pay the cost of the dog – all training and other service costs are incurred by Audeamus. On top of this, the organization is also in the works of developing a program that would provide service dogs to the children of men or women in the line of duty that may be affected with PTSD, due to their parents.
“Military people stick together, they help each other and this task that Marc and Chris took on was pretty all on their own,” said Katalin Poor, the Chair of Audeamus’ Board of Directors. “When an outsider hears all their plans, they think they are going too fast and will fail, but they are not going to crash and burn because they are committed and will keep going.”
On top of training dogs to be service dogs, Audeamus also has a program that trains people to become effective dog trainers. “It’s a big umbrella of things that people can learn in order to give back to the community and all of this is free,” declared Lapointe. “We fundraise in order to be able to do this.”
Audeamus is holding its first Fundraising Gala on Saturday, November 4 at the Ottawa Police Association Hall in Ottawa, which seats 150 people. Professional comedians and musicians, including Héloïse Yelle, have volunteered their talents for the cause, as well as members that will share their stories of trauma and recovery. The main sponsors of Audeamus’ Field of Puppies Gala are the Bairn Croft Residential Services (BCRS) and Charron Human Ressources (CHR). The Canadian Legacy Project has also partnered up with Audeaumus on several occasions, including the Legacy’s Home for Heroes project, in which Audeamus is helping them find land to get homeless veterans off the streets. The Gala will also include raffles, silent auctions and anything else that can help them raise money to continue providing free services to injured veterans.
“When PTSD strikes, you lose everything,” said Lapointe. “You lose your family, you get a divorce, you lose your friends, your job, your health – both physically and mentally.” In creating Audeamus, he hoped to reduce the stigma that surrounds mental illness, PTSD and service dogs. “If there is one message to throw out there, it is to educate yourself, have an open mind and to be respectful,” mentioned Lapointe. “It’s also important to belong to something, if you are on your own, you’re not protected.” Lapointe felt a certain responsibility towards his peers in the line of duty, to create something that would make everyone feel as if they were a part of something bigger than themselves, and to remind strong and courageous veterans and first responders that it is okay to admit defeat, sometimes, and ask for help.