Kamloops veteran visits Creston for service dog to help with post-traumatic stress

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  • Nov. 7, 2013 5:00 p.m.
Kamloops veteran visits Creston for service dog to help with post-traumatic stress

“Have you noticed all the veteran licence plates on many vehicles all around town?” Brenda Dempsey wonders. “Or perhaps the veteran plate frame under the licence plate? Have you said a friendly hello or waved to a vet?”

Her questions were stimulated by an incident in October. Dempsey works as a bartender/volunteer at Creston’s Royal Canadian Legion Branch No. 29. She sees lots of characters in her work, and knows that most people have a story that emerges when there is someone around who will listen. On Oct. 5, she took the time to be the listener.

Alan Armstrong came into the legion and stated that there was a veteran outside who was unsure about coming in as he didn’t know if we were dog friendly,” she recalls. “I asked Alan if the dog was a service dog. He didn’t know, so I stepped outside to speak to the gentleman.“

She learned that dog was, indeed, a service dog named T.J. So she invited man and dog into the legion.

“This is his story,” she said.

Jim Collins is a member of the legion in Kamloops, who served the military with two tours to Afghanistan, serving with the Rocky Mountain Rangers.

Like so many enlisted men and women who are posted to combat zones, Collins “had a rough time over there.” He came back a different man. Returning to one’s previous life is often difficult, even impossible, after going through the experience of living in a war-torn country. Post-traumatic stress disorder is not uncommon. Few are able to simply pick up their lives from where they left off. Horrific images, the sounds of gunfire and bursting bombs, constant fear of being attacked or shot at from any direction — the memories remain long after one has returned home. Chances are they will never go away.

“Jim heard of a program where dogs are trained to help vets just like him,” Dempsey learned.“ He applied to Citadel Canine Society. It took quite awhile but he was accepted and received a phone call from Diana Miller.”

Miller is a familiar sight around the streets of Creston. She trains service dogs, which seem to have a remarkable, intuitive ability to sense the needs of the person they are eventually matched with.

“Diana had a five-year-old German shepherd retired from show that she received from PAWS. She trained her and believed her to be the perfect fit for Jim.”

Collins was told he could visit Creston and see how he and the dog got along. If all went well, he could take the dog home with him.

“When he arrived to see, T.J. she ran right to Jim and began lovin’ on him,” Dempsey said she was told. “It was like love at first sight! He only had T.J. for two hours before arriving at the legion. Anyone could see the bond they formed in that short period of time.

“When they arrive at the Kamloops legion, T.J. will become an honorary member,” she said. “The president of Branch 52 plans on making her a true member.”

“I thanked him for serving our country and gave him our Legion ribbon and pin. I suggested that he make a corkboard for T.J. with all the ribbons she receives at the various legions. I also asked him to keep us updated and send us a picture when she receives her membership.”

Dempsey thinks that her chance meeting with a Canadian veteran gave her some up-close-and-personal insight into the life of a man who has served his country and is working to find his way back into the society he left as a younger, perhaps less wise man.

“So, next time you see a driver with a vet plate — thank him for all that vets gave up for us! Maybe even think about buying a plate for a valued vet.”