Veteran a dog’s best friend

Christopher
Christopher Gooding
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Service dogs get profile boost from Star of Courage recipient

(Front) Medric “Cous” Cousineau and his service dog Thai, received support from (back, from left) Springhill Mayor Max Snow and the Legion Branch No. 17’s Norma Crawford, Jerry Melanson, Shirley White and Kenny John Jackson, when the duo arrived in Springhill. Cousineau is raising money to train service dogs to assist veterans and the enlisted suffering with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

SPRINGHILL – The year was 1986. The month was October.

A daring rescue mission for two injured American fisherman off the coast of Newfoundland was underway. It was a feat of heroism that would earn one of the Sea King navigators, injured during the rescue, a Star of Courage and another badge invisible to everyone around him: post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

“When I got home, the symptoms began,” Captain Medric Cousineau (Ret.) said.

More than two decades later, Cousineau would shy away from crowds, become agitated if someone was behind him and when he lost his cool, find himself in an uncontrollable rage. His only solace, a woodshed in his backyard where, he says, he would spend all day because there was only one door and one window to watch over.

It’s a far cry from the image of the man you meet today thanks to Thai, Cousineau’s trusty service dog. Today, Cousineau is relaxed, affable and talkative. His life has changed because of his service dog. Specially trained to recognize and detect Cousineau’s stress, Thai leaps into service at the faintest whiff of a problem.

“Service dogs truly have an amazing set of skills and extremely keen sense of smell,” Cousineau said. “When I start to have an issue she can smell that change in me and start to interact with me until she’s satisfied I’m settled down.”

That interaction is called “getting goofy,” Cousineau said. Thai will start to nudge at him in a playful but rhythmic way, forcing him to pay attention to her. If he doesn’t, she ramps up the interaction until his attention is focused on her and away from his stressors.

It's changed his waking life for the better, and has brought on better nights.

“I used to have a recurrent nightmare at four o’clock in the morning every morning,” Cousineau said. “After I had her she would nudge me. One night she woke me before it got really bad. Then again. And then the nightmares lessoned.”

 

 

There are 18 things a service dog can be trained for and Thai’s specialties and big aids in Cousineau’s life. Trained by Manitoba Search and Rescue, the PTSD service dogs change lives for the better, but some of the people who could make the dogs available to more veterans aren’t always convinced.

“The government says dogs like her don’t work. But everyone of us that have one, we’re still alive,” Cousineau said. “It works and at some point the evidence is going to be overwhelming.”

After his life start to come back together thanks to Thai, Cousineau wanted to do something for veterans like himself, shocked to their core by an experience or accumulation of experiences during the service. Without government funding, however, it meant digging deep and going the extra mile to create that funding.

“I knew if I was going to do something I was going to go big,” Cousineau said.

He decided he wanted to fund 50 dogs by walking to more than 50 communities in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec and Ontario.

“We have an epidemic of veteran suicides and suicides within the service,” Cousineau said. “When they fall, they fall to a common, underlying theme: PTSD. Something I’ve known quite well for 27 years.”

In seven days, Cousineau clocked in 187 km between his home in Eastern Passage and Springhill, where he was greeted with a donation from the community’s Legion, Branch No. 17. Through these donations, Cousineau has already placed four veterans with their service dogs, which average $7,000 for training.

“I knew we could do this for other people,” Cousineau said. “Every time we do it, somebody’s life is changed for the better.”

Cousineau’s final leg of the walk should place him on the steps of Ottawa, where he hopes he will find open minds and ears will to listen about service dogs and the positive impact they have on veterans and the enlisted. Every community he visits is an opportunity to spread the message, so he expects it to be no surprise when he lends in the nation’s capital.

Online, Cousineau and Thai’s progress can be found on Facebook by search for “Paws Fur Thought, or visiting www.pawsfurthought1.com.

Geographic location: Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick Quebec Ontario Eastern Passage Ottawa

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Recent comments

  • Pete Pedersen
    August 30, 2014 - 22:19

    ZULU Alpha. If you can find time to contact me I would appreciate it. I've had what is know known as PTSD for 51 years. The only thing that kept me going was my Yorkie and I have now had Yorkies for 28 yrs. However Service Dogs all seem to be Labs or that size, I'm allergic to fur bearing. Is there any chance of Yorkies being recocnized? He rarely leaves my side and he knows when I'm not well, then he cuddles and comforts me. Hope to hear from you. Pete P. 902-242-2370.

  • Lynn
    August 30, 2013 - 19:09

    I am all for service dogs. Over the past 15 years, I have trained 2 to be service dogs to my mother who happens to be partially deaf, and has a heart condition. At 83 yrs now, she has a tendency to forget to turn off the stove, etc. When I was working and had to leave her alone on most days, they would be her constant companion, letting her know when a stranger calls if she could trust him/her, and on numerous occasions they had done their job exceedingly well. Our neighbors all knew we had service dogs, and would come running if they ever heard them barking excessively. "Jake" our current service dog is now 10.5. I have retired him since I am now retired and home most of the time. However, he still does his job on occasion... once a service dog, always a service dog. If my mother is not well, he will not leave her side. If he paces frantically, then I know something more serious is about to happen. Twice he has done this in the past year, and twice she was hospitalized.

  • Ken Lansing
    August 25, 2013 - 21:06

    I applaud your efforts and salute your supportive and amazing family! Well done Medric!

  • Dan drapeau
    August 12, 2013 - 19:00

    People might said negative comment about the legion but unlike some veterans organization. Who are snobing Medric they are helping.now lets talk about service dog I just got one of those dog this is what Kenya does, warn me when my diabetese sugar level is too low or too high , warn me before i get a flash back, wake me up before i have a nightmare ,help me with my balance, find my wallet keys diabetese test kit, press on the button for handicaspe so the door in mall will open,unfortunatly my health will never be has good has i wanted to be but there is light in our darkness and by the way those dog are train to stop us if we try to kill ourself or hurt someone when in crisis , so for the ones who do not believre Medric why dont you walk as mille in his shoes

  • marjorie king
    August 11, 2013 - 17:20

    you are doing a wonderful I personally know one vet who is suffering from PTSD it is a life alternating thing

  • Joanne
    August 09, 2013 - 22:57

    I am so impressed what you are doing. Way to go! You are proving again what a hero you are.