Four-legged friends help veterans on the road to recovery
- Credit: NSFT
Norfolk veterans with mental health problems can now receive help from man's best friend as a new initiative which pairs ex-service personnel with rescue dogs in need of a new home.
Paw Support, otherwise known as the Canine Stabilisation Programme, has been developed by ex-navy medic Mike Wright, together with staff from The Walnut Tree Project, which works in partnership with Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT) to support veterans.
Its aim is to pair up ex-servicemen and women who are suffering with mental health issues with a suitable four-legged friend rescued from a local shelter, in turn helping to tackle isolation, promote wellbeing and build confidence.
Mr Wright, an ex-Falklands veteran who served in the navy from 1973 to 1987, retrained as a canine behaviourist two years ago.
He set up Paw Support following a suggestion from wife Sue, who is ex-Women's Royal Naval Service and now works at the Walnut Tree Project.
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Mr Wright said: 'I am convinced that people suffering with mental health issues can find having a dog helpful and beneficial. This is especially the case with people from a military background, who like routine and are used to working in a team. Pairing them with a dog in need will help them both – the dog will get a new home while the veteran's rehabilitation will be supported through building a relationship with the dog and helping the dog with any behavioural and training issues it may have. Throughout this process, I will provide guidance and support.
'Some veterans have become locked in their own sphere. A dog will help with this by not only giving companionship, but also helping them integrate into society by getting out and about to enjoy walks and giving them the chance to meet new people. Having a dog helps them to regain some normality.
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'As an ex-Royal Navy medic, I understand service personnel and their healthcare issues, and also speak the military language. That is really important, because if you understand the mindset you stand a much better chance of getting a good result.
'I am also a great believer in rescuing dogs and hope that we can help some to find their perfect home through this initiative.'
Any veterans interested in adopting a dog can speak to Luke Woodley, founder of The Walnut Tree Project, who will assess their physical and mental health and home environment to see if they are suitable. Mr Wright will then work with rescue centres to find a dog which will meet the veteran's needs. He will also offer ongoing support to help them to train their dog as they build up confidence.
Mr Woodley said: 'We are delighted to launch this latest initiative, which we hope will make a real difference to both animal-loving veterans from across Norfolk and dogs in need of a new home.
'Veterans can sometimes find it hard to come forward and ask for help. We hope Paw Support will encourage them to get in touch so that we can put the right support in place to meet their needs while also finding them a new four-legged friend to help their recovery.'