SCARBOROUGH – After years of training dogs to do police work, Tom Chard, a sergeant with the Scarborough Police Department, is thrilled to be training a rescue dog to become a companion for a war veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

Chard is a volunteer trainer with the Save a Dog Save a Warrior program, which was started by Rich Brewer in 2010. The goal of the program is to match at-risk veterans with dogs rescued from animal shelters in order to provide a better life for both.

Brewer started the program after his own attempted suicide and said his hope is that the Save a Dog Save a Warrior initiative can help prevent veteran suicide, as well as save some of the more than 3,300 shelter dogs that are euthanized daily in the United States.

“Veterans with PTSD or traumatic brain injury often isolate themselves and have trouble communicating what they are feeling,” Brewer said. “The dogs are designed to address the key symptoms keeping these veterans from reintegrating into civilian life. The dogs allow them to get out into the public places they used to enjoy (while also) providing a buffer between them and the general public.”

Brewer, who now lives in Falmouth, was in the Marine Corps and survived the bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon, in 1984. Even after a successful career as a Massachusetts state trooper and private bodyguard, Brewer said the images he saw that day, as well as the injuries he suffered, have haunted him for the past 30 years.

In essence, Brewer said, the Save a Dog Save a Warrior program rests on the maxim that dogs are man’s best friend and expanding that theory to the understanding that dogs can also be man’s best medicine.

Tiger, a 2-year-old, male, hound mix, has been living with Chard and his family for the past three months. Tiger was found living on the streets of a small town in Alabama and taken to a shelter where he stayed for a year.

According to Brewer, the day Tiger was slated to be euthanized, he was saved by the Happy Home For Dogs program in New Hampshire.

He stayed there for another three months before being found by the staff at Brewer’s One Warrior Won foundation, which oversees the Save A Dog Save a Warrior program.

Brewer said Tiger was carefully evaluated and seemed perfect for the warrior companion program. Chard couldn’t agree more and said Tiger is a great fit to offer companionship and security to a veteran suffering with PTSD.

He described Tiger as a “real easy-going dog,” who is both calm and sociable. He also said that despite Tiger’s 75 pounds, he thinks he’s a lap dog. “It’s a good feeling to save a dog and also train him to assist in a veteran’s healing process,” Chard said.

Chard, who lives in Old Orchard Beach, has been with the Scarborough Police Department’s K9 unit for more than 20 years. Unlike his K9, Kachsca, though, Tiger is being trained to offer assurance and to become a trusted companion.

Chard said that Tiger “is a real sweet dog that does something funny everyday,” and said that he will miss Tiger when the dog is handed over to his new owner at the end of the month.

“It will be hard to say goodbye,” Chard admitted, “but we understand that he needs to go to the person who needs him the most.”

Chard has been in communication with the veteran who will get Tiger and said she suffers from PTSD due to her service in the Army. Unfortunately the veteran lives in the South, so it’s unlikely Chard will ever see Tiger again.

Brewer said veterans suffering from PTSD or traumatic brain injury often suffer from extreme moodiness, sleeplessness, nightmares, hyper-vigilance, startled response, rage and emotional numbness, “but having a properly trained service dog can lessen the severity of many of these symptoms.”

The dogs chosen to take part in the Save a Dog Save a Warrior program are all screened for any potential health issues, as well as for their temperament, according to Brewer.

“The dogs are selected for their confidence, but cannot show aggression with food, other animals or people,” Brewer said. To be selected to become a veteran’s companion, each dog must also do well in public places and must not startle easily, be too shy or too friendly.

The master trainer for the Save a Dog Save a Warrior program is Christian Stickney of North Edge K-9, which is located in Gorham. Brewer said it takes approximately four months to thoroughly train the companion dogs.

During this time the dogs learn basic behavioral instructions in a home environment, living with the trainer and their families. “As the training progresses the dogs begin to be exposed to the many different environments a veteran would expose them to – airports, malls, stores, parks, classrooms, etc.,” Brewer said.

“(Really) the dog is trained everyday, in family integration, behavior tasks and socialization,” he added. The final phase of training brings the veteran, the trainer and the service dog together to give the veteran hands-on experience in giving commands while the trainer stands by.

“(Overall) the dogs are trained to cover the veteran’s back,” Brewer said. “When (wounded veterans) come home we feel very alone and vulnerable, but as the veteran and the service dog become bonded, the veteran learns to trust the dog.”

He added that, “as the dog bonds with the veteran it can (also) sense when the veteran is becoming anxious or angry. At this point the dog will use some form of tactile stimulant to snap his owner out of (feeling) panic.”

Brewer said the trained companion dogs are also generally able to detect when their owner is having a nightmare and will wake them up, which helps to mitigate the nightmare’s harmful effects.

“Overall the service dog provides the veteran with a source of stress release, a source of unconditional love, of not being judged, a source of security when in the public eye and creates calmness where once only chaos reigned,” Brewer said.

As much assistance as the companion dog provides to their veteran, Brewer said the other important aspect of the program is that the dogs can have a positive impact on the overall home environment, as well.

“(A companion dog) is very calming for the entire family. Allowing the family to relax as the veteran has something positive to focus on and calm them,” he said.

Brewer also said the dog can help the veteran become less isolated, allowing them to get back out into the world and become more independent. Brewer knows the positive impact a companion dog can have in the life of a wounded veteran because he has a PTSD service dog called Anka.

He said that Tiger and the other dogs being trained in Maine will be presented to their veterans during The Patriot Gala being held in Charlotte, N.C. on Nov. 1.


A CLOSER LOOK

For more information about the One Warrior Won Foundation and its Save a Dog Save a Warrior program, call 774-0100, go online to www.onewarriorwon.org or send an email to [email protected].

The best way for people to support the Save a Dog Save a Warrior program is by sponsoring a service dog. All sponsorship funds are used to help pay for veterinary care, food and more.


Tiger is one of five rescue dogs being trained by volunteers with the Save a Dog Save a Warrior program.  


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.