For Mark from Berkshire, a black and white collie/spaniel called 'Mya' is more than his best friend. The 2-year-old assistance dog, trained by VETERANS WITH DOGS, brought Mark back from the brink of suicide.
Mark was interviewed by BBC News South about his story and how Mya saved him from taking his own life.
“It can be a real struggle to be in a crowded place. But I always have Mya with me at my side. She senses if I am tense or nervous: her company and a lick on my hand gives me confidence and courage.”
Mark and Mya are an amazing team and we are extremely proud of the hard work they have both put in to becoming qualified and of the fantastic partnership they share. Mark is a superb ambassador of just what can be achieved through our PALS programme.
Mark, Mya and Mark’s partner Heather have promoted the charity at their favourite walking spot Dinton Pastures, Hurst, collecting funds and giving out leaflets.
Mark of Tilehurst witnessed the horror of his comrades’ loss of limbs and life when he served in the Grenadier Guards in Northern Ireland in 1978-9 and 1981-2.
“Many veterans take their own lives due to PTSD. I was nearly one of them. Mya has stopped me twice. Once I had pills and a bottle of brandy ready. She sensed how I felt and jumped onto my lap and looked at me, as though asking: ‘What are you doing that for?’,” he said.
He said his PTSD became apparent after he gave up work as a logistics manager due to a long standing back injury. He is now registered disabled.
“Apparently stopping work was like taking the lid off a pressure cooker — the PTSD came out and I went downhill rapidly. I had a complete breakdown. I was suicidal and drinking a lot. I wouldn’t leave the house. Armed forces charity SSAFA were really good. A friend had given me a 12 week old puppy, Mya. The SSAFA area officer noticed Mya and I had a special bond, so she contacted Veterans With Dogs about her becoming an assistance dog. She was perfect to be trained. It is unusual for someone’s own dog to be suitable."
People with PTSD can suffer anxiety attacks and feel they cannot cope. The dogs are trained to recognise their handler’s individual behaviour and then to provide a distraction from that. They might put their head on the handler’s knee or give a friendly lick.
Mark said: “Her help means I am much better than I was.” New Year’s Eve fireworks were a terrible reminder of explosions in Northern Ireland. “I was on the floor crying, trying to block my ears. Mya was licking my face and had her head on my shoulders. She’s almost human. I call her my comfort cloth.
“At night when I have a bad flashback to an incident in the Army, she jumps on me in bed and licks my face to wake me up. I’ll be covered in sweat: she sits by me in the bathroom while I have a wash.”