Service Dogs UK was set up just three years ago by West Sussex-based Police Sergeant Garry Botterill and animal welfare campaigner and Judith Broug to train assistance dogs specially to support veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Last week the team hosted a visit by the High Sheriff of West Sussex, Caroline Nicholls, to see the volunteer team at work.
Veterans who sign up for and are accepted for the course train twice a week in Petworth for nine months with their canine friends – and then continue to be supported by Service Dogs UK to ensure that the new partners settle in well together. The dogs, which mainly come from rescue homes, provide practical support such as reminding veterans to take medication as well as a source of comfort to those suffering nightmares, flashbacks and anxiety.
Garry and Judith are keen to attract more volunteers to support with dog training as well as foster carers for new dogs to the team.
Judith said: “We now have a team of like-minded people from all walks of life, all with a serious passion for improving the lives of PTSD veterans from the Armed Forces and emergency services, whether injured on the front line abroad or at home, and for rescue dogs. We have been very lucky in attracting wonderful sponsors, fantastic dog trainers and others who have joined us in making the difference – now we hope to grow to reach more veterans who would like our support.”
Garry developed a pilot project for veterans with PTSD to work with dogs to help comrades and colleagues. As a result of his determination to learn more about the positive effect specially trained dogs have on PTSD sufferers, he was awarded a Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Fellowship to research the subject in the USA and Holland in May, 2015.
Based in Chichester, he is a Sussex Armed Forces Network ‘champion’ for the police and is also a mental health advocate within the organisation.
He is passionate about providing help and support for veterans and colleagues in both the armed forces and emergency services and reducing the stigma surrounding mental health.
Judith’s background is rescue dogs, canine nutrition and general animal welfare and has been a campaigner of many years to improve the welfare of animals. Over more recent years, she has worked with veteran organisations which sparked her passion for PTSD in the armed forces and emergency services and she continues to research this. She is involved with through her work with mental health in the Emergency Services and vulnerable people.
Mrs Nicholls, of Worthing, said: “As a High Sheriff there is the opportunity to meet many good and dedicated volunteers throughout West Sussex who are passionate about making a positive difference to people’s lives.
“Through Service Dogs UK, Garry and Judith are providing that vital support to people who have served their country or served their local community.”