As thousands of volunteers get to collecting for this year’s Poppy Appeal, some will be looking for funds for one particular cause: the country’s first canine companion for an injured soldier.
Dion Taka, who was seriously wounded in Afghanistan and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, is set to become the first New Zealand veteran to receive a specially trained assistance dog, thanks to the Returned Services Association’s annual fundraiser this Friday.
Overseas, the dogs are used to help ease the symptoms of soldiers’ PTSD and Taka’s wife, Frances, said the family was hopeful the addition of a canine to the family would be therapeutic.
“Just the fact that the dog is with the veteran can have calming influence and be very helpful,” she said.
“We spoke to one veteran from Denmark who says his dogs changed his life, and he hasn’t had nightmares since.”
The symptoms of PTSD include flashbacks, emotional distance, and constant jumpiness and irritability.
The training is expected to take 18 months and will be funded by some of the proceeds from Friday’s Poppy Day street appeal.
Kotuku Foundation Assistance Animals Aotearoa, the charity that trains the dogs, said the evidence of canines helping with PTSD was mounting up.
Founder Merenia Donne said while they had trained two PTSD assistance dogs in the past, the Takas’ would be the first specifically trained to help a soldier.
But he’s not the only contemporary veteran getting a look in, with the RSA’s annual fundraiser this year focusing on the 20,000 New Zealand soldiers that have returned from 41 deployments since the Vietnam War.
Tina Grant, whose husband was killed in Afghanistan, said it was important to acknowledge not just the RSA’s role in history but its support of families currently struggling with the loss of relatives in war.
“Poppy Day for me is about those who have gone before us and remembering those left behind. It encompasses our fallen, those currently serving and the families left to get on with their lives,” she said.
Mark Compain, who spent 21 years in the army, said people often didn’t realise the RSA support current servicemen and women.
“We do work with a lot of elderly veterans but we are also working extensively with people who served in later campaigns and with post-Vietnam service people, some in their late teens and twenties,” he said.
The annual Poppy Day appeal helps the RSA fund a variety of projects, including hardship assistance, such as retraining, family support for Defence Force personnel, assisting veterans with accessing treatment and scholarships.