Marc Lapointe, left, his service dog Sticker and Colleen Dell stand for a photograph following a funding announcement to improve health care for patients in Saskatchewan, at the Gordon Oaks Red Bear Student Centre on the University of Saskatchewan campus. PHOTO BY LIAM RICHARDS/Saskatoon StarPhoenix
The cumulative trauma of four deployments, two in Bosnia and two in Afghanistan, ended up being too much for special forces veteran Marc Lapointe. He found himself back home in 2007, crying “like a baby,” he says.
“I used to kick down doors; now I’m laying in my bed six months later. You don’t know what’s going on, you have no clue,” he said.
Lapointe would find peace from an unexpected source. While at a mental health hospital, he started taking another patient’s therapy dog for walks and playing with him. Something clicked. He started feeling better.
Lapointe then adopted and trained his own service dog, Sticker, before founding his own service dog group, Audeamus.
A service dog can be like a buoy in the ocean for a veteran with PTSD, Lapointe said. It diverts a person’s thinking away from themselves and gives them purpose in life.
“The dog will save lives. And it’s better than a bunch of pills.”
However, the dog has to come from the right program, which is why he approached Colleen Dell, a One Health and Wellness Research Chair at the University of Saskatchewan.
Now Dess, under the auspices of the newly-minted Saskatchewan Centre for Patient-Oriented Research, is teaming with Lapointe to study the benefits of service dogs for the health of veterans with PTSD and substance abuse issues. They’re looking for biological signs, such as a person’s heart rate when interacting with a dog during a traumatic episode.
“There is so much going on there. We know that from the companion animal literature — animals are important to our lives. But there’s just not a lot of research,” Dell said.
The centre will receive $62.7 million in federal and provincial funding over the next five years. One of nine such units across the country, it will have a unit dedicated to improving indigenous health, and will study nutrition in long-term care homes and dementia in rural communities.
Patients will help design research, executive director Helen Kenyon said. In the case of nutrition for long term care residents, for example, that means researching what residents can actually eat, rather than what they theoretically should.
Funding from the public, rather than pharmaceutical companies and private investors, allows the centre to do health research for the whole province, she said.
“I came from the pharmaceutical industry and we’ve made some massive strides in terms of drugs by developing those kinds of entities that will benefit a patient — but it’s about a drug. Now we’re looking at the lifestyles of patients and things that patients can bring together to have an integrated approach to their own health and well-being. And this will help do that.”