How a service dog can change your life

News Article / August 1, 2019

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By Captain Leah Pierce

22 Wing/Canadian Forces Base North Bay, Ontario, is no stranger to Americans.

It is the home of the Canadian Air Defence Sector, which conducts the North American Aerospace Defence (NORAD) Command mission. For more than 65 years, our partners to the south have been part of the bi-national mission at 22 Wing, and currently, about 30 Americans and 70 dependents call North Bay home. 

Now, we can add one more American to the list. He’s a two-year-old Texan weighing 23.5 kilograms – a chocolate Labrador Retriever who goes by the name of Dodger.

Initially, Dodger was trained for police work in Washington State by Pacific Coast K9, an organization that provides training programs supporting emergency services. However, he was too friendly. And it was his warm-hearted personality that attracted Citadel Canine Society to Dodger. 

Headquartered in Vancouver, British Columbia, Citadel is a national charitable organization that provides and trains support dogs to assist veterans, including military and emergency responders, who are diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Operational Stress Injury. 

How did Dodger come to call North Bay home? We have to go back nine years, to a snowy January day at then Canadian Forces Base Petawawa, a day that would change the life of Corporal—then Private—Bobbi Springstead forever.

“It was January 2010,” she says. “We were on a ruck march in the middle of a snowstorm, and I lost my footing. Next thing I knew, I was being treated for a spiral fracture and a broken tibia/fibula.”

A Financial Services Administrator by trade, Corporal Springstead would undergo five painful surgeries, the most recent dating back a year, to remove nails and screws from knee to the ankle. She never fully recovered from the surgeries, which resulted in her need to use a cane for the past two years. “The surgeon informed me that there was nothing more he could do.”

After being posted to 22 Wing at the end of July 2018, Corporal Springstead, an 18-year veteran, fell into a deep depression, especially because her ankle would randomly “give out”, causing her to fall. Unsure of herself, she limited her time between the home she shares with her military spouse and four children, and work, not socializing.

After she spoke with the mental health nurse, he mentioned Citadel. “We spoke with the team lead in Vancouver, who referred me to dog trainer Chip Kean in North Bay, Ontario. Chip conducted an interview and filled out the application, and I was paired with Dodger.”

A chronic pain survivor, Springstead, relies on Dodger each day. “I don’t know what I would do without him,” she admits. “He helps with my anxiety and depression, he retrieves my medication and he is trained to be a balance dog, for which we are working towards his certification.”

What is a balance dog?  If Dodger notices that Springstead’s leg begins to shake, he applies pressure, providing that extra support that she needs.  But, he does not just provide physical stability.  This lovable pooch also offers emotional and mental stability. “I am back to work now and I feel confident to leave the house.”

Because of Dodger’s support, Springstead has not had to rely on a cane for mobility and balance for almost a year.  She admits that a lot of people may be embarrassed or shy about having a service dog because it shows on the outside what is going on inside.  She said that once she got over the feeling of people looking at her she noticed that they were more interested in meeting Dodger. 

“Dodger was a game changer for my family and me,” she says. “We are a happier home.  He forces us all outside, to get up, to walk him.”

Even at work, Dodger is a force for positive change. He has made a difference in the Wing Comptroller Section where Springstead works, completing claims for military members attending civilian university and those at 22 Wing on Imposed Restriction. She explains that if he senses that someone is stressed in the section he taps her hands and she will go over to the co-worker and ask if everything is all right. 

What’s next for Dodger and Corporal Springstead? “He is learning to apply pressure at night time when I experience night terrors,” she says. “He is also learning how to open handicapped doors, for cheese strings – he’s got to have fun too!”


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