Bell Let’s Talk….
In keeping with the Bell lets talk – MSAR is proud to present the story of our founder George Leonard. He is an amazing person that has helped thousands of people through his SAR / Recovery, Service Dog Programs and the many other programs and initiatives he has started. He is greatly respected for his fight for Aboriginal murdered and missing, his veterans programs and all the people he has helped with his dogs and dog programs.
-founder of MSAR and Courageous Companions
-First Nations Band Constable
-Elite SAR Tech and K-9 Handler
-Certified Master Dog Trainer
-was the first, first responder in Canada to have a PTSD service dog, he also developed the PTSD service dog
-was the first person to bring mass awareness of PTSD and how service dogs can help
-in the beginning paid for the programs out of his pocket and has veterans and first responders stay at his house for as long as they need to learn to have a service dog(longest was 6 months)
-can train any type of service (autism, ptsd, seziures, blind, mobility etc) and working dog (police, bomb, sar, protection etc)
-is in an elite class of dog trainers that has had a huge impact on service and working dogs training and development and here is his story in his own words.
“I have the greatest respect and appreciation for my time and mentorship with Elijah Harper. A great leader for the people and one of the most important things I remember that he told me was –
“It’s not things that make a person and these things do not measure your success, it is what is going on around them and the impact they have on their community and assistance given to people in need.”…….Elijah Harper
My Story – George Leonard
I have been asked by my leadership and elders to tell the story of my PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) related to my constable and SAR (search and rescue) experiences – I have never spoken of this before as I did not want to take away from the program we initially started for veterans (Courageous Companions) – because it is not about me it is about the veterans and their service and sacrifice. However, we have had a recent and disturbing increase of suicides in our SAR and Constable ranks for the First Nations / Aboriginal– we have lost 30% of our team to suicide, yes I said 30%, by bottle or hanging. I have lost 7 colleagues to suicide in the last 9 months alone. Friends I have worked, searched, cried, laughed with and depended on, are now gone. So I will tell my story about PTSD so that my brothers and sisters will come forward for help to heal and deal with the burden of what we have seen and experienced on First Nation reserves.
First of all, I would like to say, I have PTSI (post-traumatic stress injury) or OSI (operational stress injury), not PTSD. There is nothing wrong with me as far as a disorder; I am injured from my service and the sacrifices I have made, in that service.
I got into SAR / Band Constable as the demand rose for assistance in finding our missing, murdered Aboriginal people and those who have simply disappeared, at a time when there was no spotlight on the Indian Residential experience or the countless missing men and women from the Aboriginal communities. We received no support, actually to be blunt – complete resistance, road blocks and threats by government agencies, to stop doing what we were doing. We were persistent and slowly over the past decade have taken control of our own communities and services for finding people who are missing – however, in the beginning, it was extremely difficult, because not only did you have the pressure of locating a person but the condescending eyes and treatment and pressure of government officials to fail.
We did not fail and we proudly put forth our SAR record as a great success for our communities but it obviously has a toll on the searchers and constables. The toll that it took on me was that I have seen people dead in all forms – frozen, burnt, drowned, dead for minutes, days, weeks, months, mutilated, ravaged by wild life and then the simply horrific acts that people do to each other. I have seen the results of small children butchered, pieces of people and these images are like snap shots that get into my head. The snap shots accumulate into a gruesome slideshow of horror that plays in my mind when I am triggered – decapitations, severed limbs, the looks on the dead’s faces and then the smells – these images and smells haunt me.
The problem which happens is you never know your breaking point until it happens – how many bodies can you find, how many stories you can hear. When you see so much death, eventually you think that life is about death – and then you start to withdraw, stay home, avoid the public, lose sleep, eat too much, not eat at all, stop feeling things – become numb. When this happened for me, the next stage was complete distrust – how can I trust anyone if some people I have found were murdered by people, people some have even trusted.
So, now I don’t trust people, well there go friends, family, things I like to do. I lose interest – all this isolation leads to triggering yourself over and over again. And the medications did not work for me – but what did was having dogs – when I wake from a nightmare, sweating and screaming I see two paws on my chest and a little happy face licking me and trying to calm me down – bringing me back from the darkness, bringing me back to the now. Before Bennie (my current service dog) it was Stinky and Maxx – I know for a fact I would not be alive today without me working with these dogs. Because of these dogs there is a program to assist veterans and first responders with service dogs to help with their PTSD and in a way, my own PTSI.
There were days and weeks I would not leave the house, talk to anyone, take care of myself – but I would take care of the dogs – the one and only consistently stable part of my life was the routine with the dogs. My dog is a non-judgemental, absolutely devoted friend, to the end, no matter what. I have seen grown men run past me screaming, running away, from bad guys, wild life, or what they have seen but I have never had one of my dogs leave my side – ever. This bond and trust got me through the really dark times – spending time with the dogs.
When people ask why I still do it – I remember being told by my mentor; if you are chosen to be a Warrior, Warriors must sacrifice themselves for the greater good of the people, no matter the cost. I really can’t argue with that – Elijah Harper did tremendous things for the First Nations and First Nations rights and he did pay the price for that. I have found that if I am able to work with the dogs to accomplish these tasks, I can manage the aftermath, the pain, and help the people to heal as well as myself. This is the purpose and reason for the entire Service Dog Program for veterans and first responders.
So I ask, let me rephrase that – I beg, any of my brothers / sisters from SAR / Constables to come forward and seek assistance; get help for you and your family. I know many of my brothers / sisters have compounded issues – such has having 7 generations of children raised with no parents and basically a cultural genocide because of the Indian Residential schools. These effects when compounded with PTSD can seem overwhelming, but there is help and I plead with you to come forward.
I hope this short story helps you to realize, if you are having issues, you can come forward and work towards a better and stronger future. I have used dogs and giving back to others to help heal. I will never be the same person I was before, simply too much has happened and been seen. But, I am doing much better than when I first realized what was happening. Back then no one really discussed PTSD and I easily could have become another statistic, but I did not and will not, because I have the true gift from the creator, the dog…. and this gift has also been given to close to 300 veterans and first repsonders who also want people to know that many of them are alive due to the dog pulling them back the edge, the darkness that once consumed their life and almost took it…
I am proud to say that with MSAR & CC I have developed deep brotherly friendships of people facing PTSD and its nightmares and with their support I am a stronger person.
God Bless……George Leonard