On a blistering forty degree day, with the Heat Policy enacted at the golf club, three of us decide to tee-off at 6.30am. Mad I know, but not everyone is able to be this spontaneous or stupid in the heat, least of all a golfing friend of mine Donna and her black dog Ebony.
Eer, ‘black dog’ I hear you say? That’s right, Ebony is an Assistance Dog who helps Donna with her own ‘black dog’ on and off the golf course.
This is Donna’s story about her PTSD and how Ebony came into her life:
“At 17 years young, I joined the Navy nd served 19½ years as a Helicopter Technician. In 2004 I was discharged after an accident suffering many ailments that included PTSD, anxiety and chronic pain. Since then I have had numerous hospital visits and my drugs and self-medicating alcohol regime kept increasing, as did my suicide attempts. I had become a prisoner in my own mind and home and my family were suffering as a consequence.
I wasn’t accustomed to asking for help, but five years after my navy career I finally ‘bit the bullet’ and requested some K9 support from Integra Service Dogs Australia who provide help to Veterans and First Responders. I question myself daily why I didn’t seek them out earlier.
When I first decided on a Service Dog I was so nervous about whether I would be able to cope with looking after a dog, or if it would work. It only took 6-weeks before Integra got Ebony, a black Labrador from Guide Dogs Victoria, alas she had failed the guide dog training. Integra paid for her and supplied all her gear including a crate, working coat, leads and bowls.
On meeting me for the first time Ebony had her own story: ‘I pee’d myself with excitement. I know! I’m supposed to ONLY pee on command but what can I say – I was going to my FURever home with my new mum (and family) and no more Guide Dog School for me!! Yay – Woof Woof!!’
‘The thing I wasn’t prepared for was just how much Ebony would change my life. I now get out of bed early, walk twice a day and enjoy going to coffee shops and out with my family. For the first time in 10 years I have been to the movies. I no longer stay in bed most of the day as I have a new sense of responsibility and, Ebony relies on me as much as I do her.
Our training is progressing well, though Ebony begs to differ and whines:’ ‘More school!! We (my mum Donna and I) go out weekly to shopping centres, airports and cafes to practice my public access behaviour, travel on trams, trains and buses doing public transport work and to learn some new tasks to help her. Even now, my mum follows up with training everyday (groan).
Because I’ve been schooled sooo much with Guide Dogs Victoria my obedience is pretty top notch if I do say myself. It can take up to 6-12 months to be fully trained and this can cost upwards of $400-500 per month just for the training (Cha-ching)’.
Back to Donna:
‘When I show signs of anxiety Ebony now diverts my attention with a strong nudge to the knees and grounds me by scratching me with her paws if I have a flashback. If I’m upset she steps up to give me a cuddle and also lies across my lap to provide ‘deep pressure therapy’ when my anxiety is very strong. She is a great companion when I can’t sleep and, without any training, she’ll wake me in the middle of the night if I have nightmares.
We are almost ready to sit our ‘Public Access Test’ in February – which will enable us to fly together on commercial flights.
My family are delighted with the dramatic change in my mood and even the increased weight loss thanks to our regular exercise routine. My doctor even reminded me that I haven’t taken any Valium since Ebony arrived!
Ebony joins me every week, sometimes twice a week on the golf course helping me with my disabilities. She has immaculate golf etiquette and doesn’t chase any balls or birds, I only wish she could tell me when I’m not lined up properly. It has been such a fantastic experience to get my passion for golf back, the only sport that I have left to participate in. Not to mention being back with my lady golfing friends to enjoy our weekly games and catch ups” concludes Donna.
Footnote: When I played golf with Donna and Ebony recently it was a Stroke day where every shot is counted and a couple of bad strokes can ruin the score. Donna calmly played golf pushing her buggy while she juggled Ebony, rewarded her regularly with treats, ensured she was well watered or in the shade, toileted her in the appropriate place, gave her to me to mind if she was in a bunker, and made sure that she was not sitting ‘on her line’ when putting. Yet, she still won the game of the day with a Net 69.
Donna is the first person on the Integra Program, and maybe in Australia, to play golf with an Assistance Dog. But her story is only part of the story. Next issue, read more from Ebony about her new role and how you can help train other Assistance Dogs to help people like Donna.
Follow Ebony on Instagram: ebony_donna_howard