PENTICTON - A Penticton woman suffering from PTSD after years as a first responder says the best medicine for her condition is a dog.
Naleen Barchuk was a member of the Okanagan Falls Fire Department, Grand Forks Search and Rescue and West Boundary Road Rescue. She currently works as a medic with a private medical services company, but is leaving the job due to anxiety and PTSD.
“I’ve seen so much trauma,” Barchuk says. “I’m suffering severely now. I thought it was nothing… I just kept brushing it off. I would start to cry and relive events in my head.”
Over the years, she says she responded to incidents involving burn victims, cardiac arrests and decapitations, all of which had a lasting impact on her.
The single mom from Penticton has been involved in first responder work for 15 years, since her son was a year old.
“Rock bottom is the fact I have to leave the stuff I love doing,” she says. "I have to drop it. I can't do it anymore."
Making things easier is her rescue dog Kilo. Approximately two years old, the medium-sized, mixed-breed already comforts Barchuk considerably by putting his paw or head in her lap when she’s having an attack. With proper training, she believes he could benefit her even more.
Barchuk is working to get Kilo certified as a full-fledged service dog, meaning he would be highly trained to assist her, and she could bring him everywhere with her.
“They’re trained to your scent, to the smell of you prior to an (anxiety) attack. They read off you. If you have a bit of sweat or you’re about to cry, the dog can sense it,” she says.
In B.C., there are two ways to get a certified service dog: get one from an accredited school, or have your own dog complete training and pass a public safety test. With the latter, you also need a medical form signed by a physician stating you require a service dog.
Barchuk has met with Cheri Kolstad of Muts and Motorcycles in Penticton about having Kilo trained and certified. Kolstad has been working with service dogs for many years and estimates she’s trained about 50 in the last couple of years.
“I don’t think you need to have specially bred dogs to be service dogs. I think any breed of dog can be capable of being a service dog if they have the right temperament and intelligence,” Kolstad says.
Conventional service dog schools train the dogs beforehand, whereas Kolstad works with the dog and owner to make them a team.
She’s trained service dogs for numerous applications, including for people with diabetes, autism and PTSD.
“You’re actually training the dog to deal one-on-one with the needs and problems of that specific person,” Kolstad says.
She says a common misperception is that service dogs and therapy dogs are the same thing.
“A service dog can’t just make you feel happy or calm. They actually have to provide a medical necessity,” she says. “I think for a lot of people with PTSD, it’s an amazing medical assistance.”
Barchuk has a letter from her psychiatrist stating she requires a service dog, and Kolstad has met Kilo and determined he has the aptitude to be trained. Now, Barchuk just needs to come up with the $2,000 to $4,000 to pay for the training. While some unions might cover services to help with PTSD, because Barchuk was paid-on-call during her time with the fire department, she won’t get any assistance.
To help cover the cost, Barchuk has created a Go Fund Me account.
“It’s very embarrassing to ask for help, but I had to suck up my pride. I need it,” she says.
The certification process will involve 10 to 12 hours of training with Kolstad per month, plus lots of homework with Kilo.
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