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KEVIN & Maggie's STORy

“Officers always say ‘watch your 6,’ meaning your back. Maggie’s got my back now. She’s my partner.”

Story published April 2016

Ten years ago, Kevin Johnson was an active Halifax Police Constable, volunteer, and community member. At that time, he never thought he’d go on to spend seven years of his life hiding from the outside world.

While on duty in 2009, Cst. Johnson responded to a wildfire in the Herring Cove area. He helped rescue 8 people and several animals from homes impacted by the fire. During the fire he became trapped at the bottom of a dead end road and resolved that there was no escape. He was eventually able to escape, and went back in to the blaze several times with other officers due to reports of citizens still being trapped. As a result of this event, Kevin suffered permanent physical injuries and was diagnosed with severe PTSD. One avoidant symptom of PTSD is called “bunkering." After not being able to return to work and other activities, Kevin became withdrawn and avoided contact with people and places. 

Last year, Kevin was identified as a suitable candidate for a PTSD Service Dog through the Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia’s PTSD Service Dog Matching Program for First Responders in partnership with Paws Fur Thought. (Learn more about this initiative). In March 2016, Paws Fur Thought delivered Maggie to Kevin’s home, where the two met for the first time and began their partnership.

“I was worried, but there turned out to be no adjustment period,” Kevin says. “It was like Maggie had always been there. On that very first night at 3:30 in the morning, she woke me during a night terror. And that was a breathtaking experience to have her do that. It was emotional. Because since that first night, it’s allowed me to have better sleep – something I haven’t had since 2009.”

Kevin notes that one particularly difficult night, Maggie jumped on the bed and lay on top of him for three hours, allowing him to sleep peacefully. She’d been trained to provide this intervention behaviour: deep body pressure therapy.

Maggie bonding with animals on Kevin's farm

Maggie bonding with animals on Kevin's farm

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Maggie is trained to perform many skills specific to Kevin’s needs, including watching his back in public. As a direct result of this, he’s been getting out of the house a lot more. Kevin has noticed a positive change in his ability to relax and socialize, and his family has seen it too. “They’re incredibly thankful for the difference she’s made in my life.”

“She makes me laugh and smile every day too. She’s a character. When she’s not in vest and basically being herself, she’s just like a puppy. She loves to play fetch and go for hikes.”

Maggie has fully adapted to her new life on the farm with Kevin. As a ‘bird dog,’ Labradors are naturally inclined to chase birds. “To see her walk through a group of chickens, geese, and ducks and act like they don’t even exist is pretty incredible to watch,” he says.

While Maggie is fully trained, Kevin is on remedial training as her handler. “I have a way to go,” he says. “She’s very patient with me.”

“If I had one thought to share with others, I’d say: PTSD is real. It’s somewhere I never thought I’d be. Something I’d never experience. Anybody out there who is a first responder, and even in the slightest is having an issue...I hope they speak up and they don’t hide. I hope these people will get help, talk to somebody, and realize they are not alone. Because losing one first responder or one military veteran is way too many. And there have been way too many lost. And the difference Maggie has already made in my life- I can see the light.”

 

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