Citadel Canine offers service dogs for military vets and first responders struggling with PTSD

While there are many important, worthwhile service dog training schools, Citadel Canine Society focuses on training service dogs to cope with one particular task: helping those struggling with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

"Our mission is to provide service dogs for new military veterans, and also first responders," said Citadel Canine founder Brian Archer. "And that includes police and fire, ambulance and 911 personnel, nursing...we're just starting [a Citadel-trained dog with] our first Corrections Officer in Saskatchewan soon."

Jason Gordon applied to have his dog Cheeko trained through Citadel. Gordon served 28 years in the military.

"I did 20 years Army, and in those 20 years, I did five tours.  Last one was nine months in Afghanistan, previous was Afghanistan, in the Republic of Central Africa, and two tours in the former Yugoslavia, Bosnia, plus other service tasks around the world."

Gordon then served eight years as an air force firefighter. But it all took its toll.

"When I was training in CFB Borden for my firefighting course, I used to, at the end of the day, volunteer at the Humane Society and take dogs for a run," Gordon said.

Gordon adopted Cheeko from the shelter after various therapists recommended that he get a dog because of his debilitating mental health struggles.

"I was diagnosed with OSI - Operational Stress Injury.  Just an accumulation of high-tempo deployments all of the time - the accumulated stresses," Gordon said.

Having Cheeko helped him, but he still struggled, and in 2009 while working as a shipboard firefighter, Gordon was diagnosed with PTSD.

A coworker noticed how much calmer and less anxious Gordon was when Cheeko was nearby.

"He said 'maybe you should look into service dog therapy.'"

Gordon was open to the idea but hated the thought of losing Cheeko to take on a service dog.

He then heard about Citadel Canine, which not only often trains dogs rescued from animal shelters, but also from one's own home, if it passes the initial tests.

"Most of our dogs are rescue dogs, and that's really a double win," says Archer. "It's a win for the dog, obviously, it's a win for the shelter, but it's also a win for us and our candidates."

Gordon is grateful to Citadel for the service they offer.

"They've helped me so much. If you would have seen us a few years ago, you would have seen a completely different person.  [Cheeko's] changed me in so many ways," Gordon said.

"You know, I'm out and about now. I've gotten back to school. I've retired from the military. He's helped me through that... I go to the cinema, and to the movies now - I didn't do that before. He knows if I'm reacting, even before I do, and gets me grounded, so I stay in a good zone. If I'm having nightmares, night terrors, something like that, he'll wake me out of the sleep by licking my hand, by putting a paw on me."

There are currently 70 Citadel Canine service dogs working across Canada.

"We're right across the country, spread out across from Victoria all the way to Newfoundland" adds Archer.

But he adds that "unfortunately, the demand for PTSD [service] dogs has really shot up right across the country, and as a resu, t there is a long waiting list."

"The more support we get, the more dogs we can produce," says Archer, pointing out that Citadel is a registered charity.

Archer mentions the Citadel Canine motto:  "We try to help our heroes as best we can, and that's with one dog at a time."

Click here to learn more about Citadel Canine, or to make a donation.