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Bravehound charity dog helped veteran through PTSD

Jimmy Church, who served for 16 years, said his spaniel Bracken has changed his life.

Reporting by Clare McNeill

A veteran suffering from PTSD has said a dog given to him by a charity which supports ex-servicemen and women has changed his life.

Jimmy Church from Glasgow served in the armed forces for 16 years.

Yet he wasn't aware of how his experience had affected him until the symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder really took hold.

"I was OK for a long time. But then I started feeling different and didn't realise there was anything wrong with me," Jimmy explains.

"I was very alone. I had two failed marriages as well but not realising that these were some of the aspects of PTSD."

Jimmy said he wanted to avoid people and even rearranged his home as a result.

"It got to the stage where I'd moved all my furniture, my bed, my sofa, my TV, and a big coffee maker into the one room in the house. Closed the doors closed the windows.

"My neighbour thought I had moved out two years earlier until one day she saw me moving.

"I started doing my shopping in the middle of the night, it's all avoidance and stuff.

"I just wasn't functioning as a person."

Jimmy was referred to the Bravehound charity, based in Erskine, who provides dogs for veterans suffering from PTSD.

Bravehound's dogs are there to give their owner a sense of purpose, encourage them to get out of the house and provide them with 24 hour companionship.

"Sometimes I go into a dark mood, dark places. And Bracken seems to sense these things so she comes up and cuddles into me as if to say everything's going to be ok."
Jimmy Church

Jimmy said his ball-mad spaniel Bracken changed his life.

"Sometimes I go into a dark mood, dark places. And Bracken seems to sense these things so she comes up and cuddles into me as if to say everything's going to be OK.

"Or she puts the ball on my lap, tail wagging, as if to say right, let's go and play.

"I've got to look after her needs as well, instead of worrying what was wrong with me. I've got this little thing here to take out, make sure she's OK, and she's such a wee happy thing."

He says Bracken has given him the confidence to leave the house as people are more focused on chatting about her and he no longer worries he's going to have to talk about himself.

"The other thing she's brilliant for is the socialisation side of it. For a long time I had disassociated myself with people and now I talk a lot more to people.

"She just follows me everywhere, but I love her for it cause sometimes you just need to know someone's there.

"I know that she doesn't understand everything I'm saying but I think she still understands some of the stuff I'm saying.

"She's a wee angel. A beautiful wee dog."

Bracken has helped Jimmy cope with his PTSD.
Bracken has helped Jimmy cope with his PTSD. STV

At the Bravehound base in Erskine, each dog undergoes around a year's worth of training and are taught certain commands to provide comfort and security for their new owner.

The charity also makes a commitment to fund vet bills, insurance, and other costs over the dog's lifetime.

In the three years the charity has been running, 15 pups have gone on to good homes.

CEO and founder Fiona MacDonald says: "We've had several veterans who've said they wouldn't be here if it wasn't for their dog.

"It's really important for veterans who are finding it difficult to go out, we want them to feel very confident when they go out.

"The dogs have their basic training but they'll learn particular commands like block, where they'll stand in front of you if you're somewhere very busy to make a physical barrier.

"Or visit, where you can say visit and the dog will come and put its nose on your knee.

'She just follows me everywhere, but I love her for it because sometimes you just need to know someone's there.'
Jimmy Church

"So if you're out somewhere and getting a bit stressed you have that instant reassurance with your dog.

"It's 24 hour companionship and reassurance and confidence to get out."

They charity also have weekly meets for those involved and run activities and dog shows for them to take part in.

Jimmy adds: "We're like a brotherhood. And it's great coming here cause we all understand each other.

"We see a lot of things normal human beings don't get to see.

"A lot of things happen to us, whether it's a friend is blown up or injured. Many who come home have a guilt factor that they survived.

"We have this thing where we say I don't need help. I'm OK. But a lot of us aren't OK.

"And guys if they are out there feeling like this they should contact an organisation and get the help they need."

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