“I can see the light”: First responder matched with PTSD service dog through Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia initiative

Additional information and photos can be found here: www.mentalhealthns.ca/kevin-maggies-story

The Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia, in partnership with Paws Fur Thought, is pleased to announce a new match has been made through its PTSD Service Dog Matching Initiative for First Responders. Kevin Johnson, a former Halifax Police Officer who lives with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, has been successfully matched with Maggie, a specially trained Chocolate Lab.

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. As a result of this event, Kevin suffered permanent physical injuries and was diagnosed with severe PTSD. In the years following the fire, Kevin experienced “bunkering,” an avoidant symptom of PTSD.

Last year, Kevin was identified as a suitable candidate for a PTSD Service Dog. 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 began her training, like all dogs in the program, as baby puppy while still with her mother at the breeder’s home. As she grew, she worked on basic training with a volunteer puppy-raising family in the Valley. This rural environment turned out to be one of the contributing factors to her match with Kevin, as he lives on a farm.

Prior to advanced training, Maggie had to attain certain standards in basic manners, socialization and public access-specific training in order to be selected to move into advanced training. This training followed Assistance Dog International’s Minimum Standards for Public Access guidelines.

Following the training with her volunteer puppy-raising family, Maggie spent 3 and a half months living with trainer, Lisa Partridge, to receive advanced training specific to Kevin’s needs. As a PTSD service dog, Maggie was trained to recognize Kevin’s specific scent while experiencing night terrors, rouse him, and apply deep body pressure to help him settle back to sleep. Maggie has been trained to watch Kevin’s back in public and performs many other tasks specific to his needs.

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.

“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.”

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.”

“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.”

About the Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia
The Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia is a registered charity dedicated to improving the lives of Nova Scotians living with mental illness and their loved ones.  We raise funds for vital programs and services that help make this possible, province-wide.

About the PTSD Service Dog Matching Initiative for First Responders
The Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia’s PTSD Service Dog Matching Initiative for First Responders grew out of a partnership with Medric Cousineau, military veteran and founder of Paws Fur Thought - a service dog matching program for military service members facing PTSD. Medric had been overwhelmed by requests from first responders in critical need of help. Their needs, however, fell outside his organization’s funding mandate.

Launched at the 2014 Compass Group Canada Festival of Trees, Foundation’s initiative has been an incredible success. Donations have made it possible for the Foundation to fund 32 matches, of which Kevin is the second. Sonny Wicks was matched with his dog, Tru, in April 2015. (Read more at mentalhealthns.ca/sonnys-story).




Colleen Fraser, Communications Coordinator
Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia

T: (902) 464-3210
E: colleen.fraser@nshealth.ca

Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia
Suite 1120, 300 Pleasant Street
Dartmouth, NS   B2Y 3Z9