Program takes bite out of PTSD issues

Staff report

“Dogs are our link to paradise. They don’t know evil or jealousy or discontent. To sit with a dog on a hillside on a glorious afternoon is to be back in Eden, where doing nothing was not boring — it was peace.”
― Milan Kundera, author

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USMC Sgt Rodger Thacker II, his mother Georgia Thacker and Maggie. “Maggie is perfect for him,” said Georgia. “I think they were made for each other. Our son really needed this and I think she really will help him.” (Photo courtesy 1st. Lt. Chris Winburn, Kentucky National Guard Resilience Program)

FRANKFORT, Ky. — The bond between dogs and humans is thousands of years old.  For millenia our canine friends have hunted alongside us, guarded our herds and our homes, fought in our wars and comforted us in times of woe.  They are more than mere pets; they are our companions, co-workers and our best friends.   In some cases they can also be healers of a special sort.

The “Canines Helping Our Military Personnel” or CHOMP program is a partnership between the Kentucky National Guard, the Lexington Humane Society and Federal Medical Center.  The Humane Society provides dogs to veterans with a waived adoption fee. Before joining their new masters, the canines must first go through a training program run by inmates at the Federal Medical Center.

1st. Lt. Chris Winburn coordinates the project as part of the Kentucky Guard’s Resilience Program.   Winburn’s primary focus is to market the program and find individuals that not only meet the criteria, but also have a desire to participate.  To be eligible, a candidate should be a combat veteran and be in a place in their life that gives them a need for a companion animal.  This need could come in several forms, but the idea is that the veteran is dealing with issues such as PTSD, thoughts of suicide, family issues or general feelings of loss or loneliness.

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Hunting buddies: USMC Sgt. Rodger Thacker II is a twice deployed combat veteran. He teamed up with Maggie after receiving an email about the Kentucky National Guard’s Canines Helping Our Military Personnel (CHOMP) program. (Photo courtesy 1st. Lt. Chris Winburn, Kentucky National Guard Resilience Program)

“The concept originally came from research which showed that a companion animal can be a powerful positive influence in a person’s life,” said Winburn.  “As suicide rates in the military, and particularly among combat veterans, continue to increase, the Kentucky National Guard Resilience Team has been focusing on ways to not only try and curb the problem of suicide, but also to build a stronger and more resilient force.”

Within just a few hours of putting out a notice about the CHOMP program, Winburn’s team received an email from Georgia Thacker, a Kentucky National Guard Family Readiness Group leader.  She’s also the wife of Sgt. 1st Class Rodger Thacker, a twice deployed Guard soldier.

But it wasn’t her husband that was in need.  Instead, Georgia sent the flyer to her son, an active duty Marine stationed in North Carolina.   Almost immediately USMC Sgt. Roger Thacker II asked if he could participate in the program.  He explained that he had dealt with issues relating to PTSD from two prior combat deployments, and that he had recently lost his four dogs in a divorce.

“Thacker’s situation was ideal for this program,” said Winburn.  “He was  twice deployed combat veteran and had gone through a tough spell here at home.  His family relationship with the Kentucky Guard made it an easy decision.”

A few emails later and Thacker was in Kentucky the following week to meet his new best friend at the Lexington Humane Society.

After completing an application form, Thacker then met with Humane Society staffers.   When asked for details on what kind of dog he wanted to adopt, that was easy: a hunting companion.

The Humane Society had the perfect candidate.  Maggie is 11 month old Treeing Walker Coonhound, a breed known for their remarkable hunting ability.  Rodger and Maggie spent some time getting to know one another and working with the Humane Society staff on the different commands that came from the FMC training program.  The pup was excited to be interacting with people, but she somehow managed to sit and roll-over for a treat.

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USMC Sgt Rodger Thacker II, 1st. Lt. Chris Winburn and Maggie. For more information on CHOMP contact 1st Lt. Chris Winburn at 502-607-1575 or at christopher.r.winburn.mil@mail.mil. (Photo courtesy 1st. Lt. Chris Winburn, Kentucky National Guard Resilience Program)

“The only thing that was more impressive than watching Maggie’s training was witnessing a bond between dog and owner form before our very eyes in such a short time,” said Windburn.   “That was pretty great.”

Humane Society staff helped Thacker fill out the necessary paperwork for adopting Maggie and briefed him about complimentary veterinarian visits and medications. He was even given a big bag of dog food.

“This program will make a huge impact in my life,” said Thacker.  “I encourage anyone looking for a companion to help you in any way to consider this program.  It was easy and the outcome better than I could ever imagine.”

Georgia, Thacker’s mother, is a big fan of CHOMP — and of Maggie!  “This definitely helped my son,” she said.  “Before I even heard of the program I told him, I think you need a companion.  Then I saw the email and the next thing I knew Rodger was on his way to Kentucky.”

“Our son is so excited,” she said.   “Maggie is perfect for him.  I think they were made for each other.  She’s going to be indoors with him, but they’ll also go hunting together.  It was just a wonderful thing.  He really needed this in his life right now and I think she really will help him.”

Dad was equally excited about the new addition to the family.  “When Rodger got home with Maggie his face was so lit up, it was like, wow!” said Sgt. 1st Class Thacker.  “It’s as if the man upstairs said, we got something for you, son.”

Winburn finds his work with CHOMP rewarding.  “It’s great to be a part of an organization that cares so much about its members.  The Resilience team knows that there are other veterans amongst our ranks that can benefit from the CHOMP program.”

If you or someone you know might be a good candidate for this program, and would like more information contact 1st Lt. Chris Winburn at 502-607-1575 or at christopher.r.winburn.mil@mail.mil.

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