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A Service Dog is more than just the Family Pet

Jonathan Dulude started his military career in 2008 in Winnipeg, then to Valcartier, Que., Ottawa, and then out west to Comox. Throughout his career, he maintained the role of cook in a variety of different scenarios. Jonathan’s most memorable position was cooking on the 412 Challenger for 3.5 years, preparing meals for Royal Family members, dignitaries, medevac, and the Prime Minister.

Jonathan Dulude and his Service Dog, Evi at the Warrior Games, Aug. 2022. Photo credit: Jonathan Dulude

However, due to an operational stress injury, Jonathan was medically released from CAF and struggled with debilitating mental health issues. Jonathan’s doctor recommended that he get a support dog to ease the anxiety and trauma that he was going through.

Jonathan applied and after a nine-month wait, he was approved to receive a Service dog from the Vancouver Island Compassion Dogs. The VICD is a division of the BC and Alberta Guide Dogs that helps people with Operational Stress Injuries such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The purpose of providing a trained support dog is to empower veterans and First Responders with the tools they need to get back into their lives and communities.

The VICD raises these dogs from birth. Knowing the history and lineage of both parents enables the organization to provide well-bred dogs that excel in their role as support dogs. The dogs are trained by the BC Guide Dogs organization for two years in one of the following three categories: PTSD, Blind, and Autism. When Jonathan’s time came to get his dog, he was shown three dogs and the trainers and Jonathan went through a decision-making process to determine which dog was best suited to meet Jonathan’s needs.

Jonathan stated that he knew almost immediately that Evi was the dog for him. He and Evi went through a training process that lasted ten months. Jonathan noted that the best day was when he and Evi were paired, and she could come home for the first sleepover. Jonathan noted that this is the day he began coming out of the dark side of life and felt extreme happiness.

Jonathan explained that Evi supports him by being able to recognize the anxiety Jonathan has and help him to overcome the OSI situation. For instance, if the two of them are in a shopping mall or a crowded public place that is uncomfortable for him, Evi will nudge or push up against Jonathan until he removes himself from the situation. Evi uses her weight to get her point across and has now earned the nickname, “Heavy-Evi.” Evi will also wake Jonathan up from nightmares and anxiety attacks by crawling on the ground or bed close to Jonathan and pushing herself underneath him to raise him up and help him to refocus his thoughts and take control of the trauma.

With Jonathan’s family, his wife Andrea, and their two boys, aged seven and four, Evi has normal dog-family interactions. However, out in public, when Evi has her vest on, she is a working dog that has rules and guidelines and Evi knows the difference. One thing that many people don’t realize is that you are not to pet service dogs unless permission is given as this distracts the dog from the job that they are doing.

Having Evi as a support dog in Jonathan’s life has given him confidence and comfort in situations that may have previously caused anxiety and stress, to now being more focused and aware of how to recognize and effectively deal with the issues and minimize any traumatic outcome.

Evi accompanied Jonathan as a member of Team Canada at the Warrior Games down in Orlando, Florida from August 17 to 29, 2022.

The Warrior Games were hosted by The US Army DoD and were held at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Walt Disney World, Florida. The games were established to aid wounded individuals, specifically veterans, in sporting events that help them to overcome the impact of their individual injuries. These games come together after weeks of training. Each participant picks three sports to be involved in. Jonathan chose cycling, swimming, and wheelchair basketball. In this program, Jonathan stated that his biggest takeaway was that he felt that he was not alone and that he was very supported in dealing with his mental health injuries and he would recommend this program to anyone who is struggling with mental health injuries. Along with the training, support, and competitions, Jonathan and Evi have made some lifelong friends.

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