Dogs could be an integral part of the ongoing treatment of veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, and Veterans Affairs is looking into the potential.
"These dogs are no different than a pair of crutches. They can be considered a medical-assistive device," said Elizabeth Baker, owner of Thames Centre Service Dogs in London, Ont.
Baker takes abandoned and surrendered dogs with good personalities and turns them into psychiatric service dogs. They're trained to deal with panic attacks by pressing up against and calming their owners.
She trains about 15 dogs a year and sells them across the country to people with autism and veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. Baker said these dogs can reduce a person's need for medication and can cut down on the costs of health care.
"There are less incidents of personal injury and suicide, because the service dog is there and can stop a panic attack or an anxiety attack," she said.
But the training does not come cheaply. The dogs cost about $6,000 each.
An Ontario Legion branch paid for one dog for a veteran, and hopes to be able to buy more. But the Legion's resources are limited, said Baker, and that's why she wants Veterans Affairs to step in.
Mark Belfry, who is with Veterans Affairs in Charlottetown, said the department is taking Baker's proposal seriously.
"It's interesting. It needs to be looked at," said Belfry.
"It's something we're giving some thought to. We think there's potential benefit, anecdotally the information is interesting and it's a matter of doing it right."
Baker said she's not going to give up, until she has an answer.
"I'm going to continue to push and be a thorn in their side."
Of all the Canadian soldiers who have fought in Afghanistan since 2005, about six per cent suffer from PTSD.