When a dog’s life saves

18/09/2018. Melton/Moorabool Star Weekly. Digger. Issue Date 25/09. Melton. Young Diggers is using rescue dogs and rehoming them with young veterans. Pictured is volunteer Joseph Bowden with Digger, the first rescue dog from the Melton Pound to be rehomed. Picture Shawn Smits.

By Sumeyya Ilanbey

Less than two years ago, Joseph Bowden was in a very dark place. He had attempted suicide on several occasions and would “self-medicate” with two bottles of wine every night.

The Australian Defence Force veteran left the army in 2014 after serving for 24 years in various roles and across the world.

He was on suicide watch in the days leading up to his retirement, so was admitted to the Austin Health Psychological Trauma Recovery Service, staying for nine weeks.

“I learned new strategies and how to cope,” Mr Bowden said.

It was there that the Heidelberg man saw a poster for the Young Diggers program – headed in Victoria by Melton woman Carole Doyle – that would eventually lead to big changes.

The program partners assistance dogs with veterans and first responders living with post-traumatic stress disorder.

“I rang the number and applied to the program [in 2014], but didn’t hear anything for a year-and-a-half,” Mr Bowden says.

“Out of the blue one day, Carole Doyle calls … and we went for a coffee at the main drag [in Melton].

“About three hours later she told me her life story and I told her mine. Four weeks later, she came with Djidi.”

Djidi, a blue-heeler, was initially intended for another veteran, but when that didn’t work out, Ms Doyle asked Mr Bowden if he wanted to be partnered with her.

“I said I’ll take her on a trial basis, and if it doesn’t work out it’s fine,” he said.

“Three weeks later, Carole checked in with me and said, ‘How are you going?’ I said, ‘She’s mine and you’re not getting her back’. Djidi
has given me confidence, taught me patience and understanding again, which I thought I lost.”

Ms Doyle says the program has saved the lives of many veterans who struggled with PTSD.

During night terrors, the assistance dogs calm veterans down.

“There is light at the end of the tunnel,” Ms Doyle said.

She’s looking for more volunteers, dog trainers and foster carers.

The group recently rescued its first Melton dog – Digger, the bull arab.

“He was really, really bad,” Ms Doyle said. “Skin and bones, had bite marks all over him, all over his head. He was really, really thin, but was really gentle when I went to see him.”