Service dogs get profile boost from Star of Courage recipient
© Christopher Gooding photo
(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.