Veterans

Iraq Veteran Gets 'Sense Of Purpose' With New Assistance Dog

Veteran Steve McKenzie said "having the dog gives me a sense of purpose and great companionship".

An Iraq war veteran who has suffered with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) says his new service dog has given him a renewed sense of purpose in his recovery.

Steve McKenzie is the first person to get an animal from new charity A Veteran's Best Friend (AVBF) - set up by a former Royal Marines Commando - which provides support for Armed Forces veterans and works with rehoming centres to provide assistance dogs.

Having served in the Royal Navy and the British Army, and deployed in both Iraq wars, Mr McKenzie is hoping the "companionship" rescue dog Tootsie offers will help to make his life after service easier.

"One of the main problems that I've suffered due to my mental health and the substance abuse issues that went with it was that I alienated friends and family," he said.

"I shut myself away quite a bit, and having the dog gives me a sense of purpose and great companionship, she seems to know when I'm down."

After some professional training Tootsie will eventually be able to help Mr McKenzie regulate his medication, but for now she's already had an impact on her new owner.

"She's a fantastic little dog, she's a little rescue dog from Romania," the veteran said.

"She's extremely loving, a very, very friendly dog, full of life, loves her walks, loves her playtime, just fantastic company."

Veteran Gets Dog Tootsie From Charity A Veterans Best Friend In Training 09062021 CREDIT BFBS.jpg
Assistance dog Tootsie goes through some training with veteran Steve McKenzie.

Mick Cairns founded AVBF after experiencing his own mental health issues which ended his 17-year military career.

He was medically discharged from the Royal Marines after being diagnosed with PTSD and a perfectionist personality disorder.

The reaction of his rescue dog, Sam, when he had a breakdown, led to him wanting to learn more about what dogs can do to improve people's mental health.

He said: "The dog is an alternative method of treatment. What a dog can do, there's no medication that can do.

"When the guys are bad they don't want to leave the house, [they] lock themselves away and socially isolate.

"Having a dog forces them to get out and about, then once they're out and about they feel good about themselves, get a bit of fresh air, it forces them to socialise with people."

Mr McKenzie has struggled with homelessness and drug abuse in recent times but is certain Tootsie can help him on a better path.

"It is a massive thing to have that responsibility and structure again in your life which is missing," he said.

"When you have the signs and symptoms of PTSD, life can seem quite pointless.

"But when you have somebody who needs taking care of and who is taking care of you as well, it's fantastic."