A First Nations-run company in Manitoba that trains service dogs to help those living with post-traumatic stress disorder is donating three dogs to the survivors of the Humboldt bus crash.
Player Grayson Cameron will get to meet his new pup, Chase, for the first time this week.
“They’re dealing with a lot of anxiety right now. We knew that was coming. We’re only five months in now, and they’re just starting to come out of the shock, to be honest,” said Grayson’s mom, Pam Cameron, who got the idea for a service dog after the animalsÂ visited players in the hospital following last April’s fatal bus crash.
“[Grayson]Â was very agitated and when the dogs came in, there was just a peace about him.”
Sixteen people were killed when the Humboldt Broncos’ team bus collided with a semi-trailer truckÂ on April 6 north of Tisdale, Sask.
Grayson was one of 13 survivors.
George Leonard is a certified master dog trainer with Manitoba-based MSAR Elite Service Dogs and has been training one-year-old Chase specificallyÂ to help Grayson with his symptoms.
Leonard, who has trained dogs for military veterans, police and torture survivors, said the chocolate lab recognizes symptoms of anxiety and works to de-escalate them through affection.
Leonard also suffers from PTSD and said the gentle dog should be able to help Grayson while he goes through the process of mentally recovering from the crash.
“From what I’ve seenÂ working with veterans, this next year and a bit is a critical time,” he said.
“He’s going to continue in hockey, continue in school; he’s going to need support for that to make that happen.
“He’s going to need a dog in order to distract him and in order to get through his daily life.”
Chase and the other two dogs â which are also being trained and will be introduced to two other Bronco players when they’re ready â will each become a “support anchor” for the players.
“You live with them, they’re with you, you take them everywhere,” Leonard said.
That support is something William Webb knows well.
The Vancouver Island resident is a veteran of the war in Afghanistan who returned home from a deployment in 2012 with PTSD.
“I was a shut-in. I lived in my basement and I stopped talking to my family; I stopped going out,” said Webb, who also suffered from night terrors.
“I came back with what they call the hidden injury.”
But that’s changed since he got his service dog, Jessie, from MSAR in 2014.
He nowÂ lives without medication, goes out with his family and sleeps through the night.
“She’s constantly working. She’s constantly on guard for me,” he said of Jessie.
“These dogs save lives.”
But both Webb and Leonard stress the players will have to do their part, too â it’s important they work with psychiatrists, eat properly and make sure they’re getting enough sleep.
“If you’re in a PTSD manic state and I give you a dog, that’s not going to do anything for either of you,” Leonard said.
“Because the dog’s not a magic bullet. The dog is a piece of a puzzle of a mental health picture that’s going to help bring you back to where you were.”
That’s part of the reason Grayson and Chase’s first get-together in Edmonton this Friday will be temporary.
After the pair spend a few days together, Chase will taken back for further training to help him work specifically with his new owner, Leonard said.
It’ll also give Grayson some time to get ready for his new friend’s permanent arrival.
“You can’t rush it and you can’t force it on anyone,” said Leonard, adding it’s an important step for Chase and Grayson to meet now, roughly halfway through the dog’s training.
“Grayson is coming along in his recovery and we want to give him that little bit of hope that the dog is coming and he needs to get ready.”