Sharing is Caring & Gezelligheid
Garry’s final stop in his PTSD research & assistance dogs took him to The Netherlands, Amstelveen to be precise where I decided to join him for our visit to KNGF, the organisation that has won awards for their fantastic video of their Buddy Dogs for PTSD Veterans (watch it here) . The Netherlands being the country I grew up in, so it was also an opportunity to get my Dutch ‘fix’ which are mostly food related, enjoy the gorgeous countryside on a bike, speak in my native tongue and “gezelligheid” meaning having a wonderful cosy time with people (and much more).
The KNGF is located in a beautiful polder near Amsterdam with windmills nearby painted by Rembrandt, you cannot get more Dutch. The premises are amazing both in style and design with walking areas for recipients and their dogs. There are small touches that are all geared up to it’s users, private rooms and a kennel block which is kitted out with all mod cons and full with smiling happy dogs! We received several dog kisses and were handed several slobbery toys.
Most of the dogs the KNGF breed themselves by crossing Shepherds with Retrievers making extremely healthy but also surprisingly big, beautiful and strong dogs. It was interesting to see the “Wall of Fame” highlighting the organisations 80 years past where in the early days a lot of dogs that were used for assistance where crossbreeds and ‘muts’.
We had a full programme of activities and chats with many inspirational people in the organisation and met many of the trainers. We were shown by dog trainer Marshia different tasks and how they were taught to the dogs. One of which was training a dog to wake up someone from a night terror – this was a fascinating combination of part training and part using instinct on the dogs part, allowing the dog in its own time to make decisions and for those to be rewarded on time. It highlighted that for many of the tasks for PTSD training working with the dog’s natural instinct is very effective.
We also had a chance to speak to Rijk, a great guy and Instructor, full of passion for the PTSD programme. He was very open in sharing his experiences with dealing with their PTSD clients, their assessments, partnerships with other organisations. and their training programme. There is an emphasis on ‘aftercare’ to make sure KNGF, as guardians of these special dogs, are able to make lasting partnerships that benefit the clients but also give a great life and home to the PTSD assistance dog.
The KNGF also set up a meeting for us at an organisation called De Basis (The Base), which provides welfare and social services to veterans and those in the emergency services. We had the chance to quiz Daan Russchen and Bavo Hopman about their work, how they see PTSD; it’s services, the future and what still needs to be changed in terms of providing care and removing stigma. Talking to them highlighted very starkly how much development still needs to be done in the UK, it seems the Netherlands and it’s governing bodies and organisations looking after the military and emergency services are light years ahead. This is in part due to this organisations devoted and long-term lobbying over decades – as PTSD came to the fore in the 60s! De Basis works very closely with the National Police and Armed Forces – to make sure they can reach those struggling quickly and locally.
This visit was truly above and beyond what I expected, in my memory it will stand out as inspirational, instructive and a true ethic of ‘sharing is caring’. It certainly has spurred us on even more but also it will allow us to, instead of re-inventing the wheel, take a lot of the ideas, experiences and advice given to us by all these wonderful people to create a very solid foundation for Service Dogs UK. In years to come we hope to report back and say ‘this is what you helped us to achieve with your kindness and support’, and we too, will be making a real difference to those who have served but have paid a high price for that service.
I would like to thank everyone from the bottom of my heart, for giving your valuable time, sharing your experience and knowledge and your support, but a special thanks to Kees Tinga for inviting us and making sure we met lots of great people.