The four-legged companions helping fight veteran trauma

After devoting more than three decades to Victoria Police, Ian struggled to deal with the lasting effects of the job. Then, an instant bond with an unlikely companion began rewriting his story.

Ian Clark was sure he had another ten years on the job, bringing him to 45 years of devout police work.

He didn’t know how quickly the job he loved – something he could do in his sleep – could become an impossible feat.

“I don’t know where my PTSD came from, but it hit me like a brick,” he says.

“I’d seen many things that I hope the average person never has to see. And they shouldn’t – that was our job, not theirs.”

That’s when Ian’s nightmares started; something he remembers as being “vivid, vicious and angry”, bringing on “massive anxiety” doing the job he’d always loved.

“Two weeks,” he says. “That’s how quickly it hit”.

“It continued, and my ten-year dream disappeared quickly. I had the support of my bosses and was putting in for promotion. Suddenly I just couldn’t function.”

Fast-forward to September of last year, and Ian had finished up a 35-year stint with Victoria Police after his anxiety had become too much to handle. He sought out help at the Melbourne Clinic, completing a ten week course for emergency service workers.

“My bucket had filled, and one unknown drop pushed it over,” he says.

Then along came Ben.

All but two kilos, Ben is a pint-sized Cavoodle who was given to Ian by Cavoodle Love Sydney. The organisation posted the proposition of offering a puppy to a Police member, as a mark of appreciation for work they do for the community.

“I already can’t imagine him not being part of my life,” Ian says.

“The generosity of [Cavoodle Love] brings tears to my eyes,” he says. “I have a long way to go in my recovery – a very long way – but to donate puppies for a cause like this, it just doesn’t save one person; it saves families, friends and colleagues.” 

Ian says Ben has already begun to recognise the onset of an anxiety attack, something he can suffer from unexpectedly.

“I was playing fetch with him in the kitchen. I was cooking as well, and because he’s always around my feet, he instantly noticed when I started to have an anxiety attack.”

“Out of the blue I just started crying,” he says, “and he just kind of stopped playing and came straight over.”

In addition to seeing a psychologist and a psychiatrist, Ian receives support from the Victoria Police wellbeing service and Veteran Peer Support. Ben, Ian says, is proving to be an important component to improving his wellbeing.

“I’ve gotten so much out of him already, and though I’ve got a long way to go, I can see him being a great companion to me for a long, for a long time,” he says.

“To those suffering from PTSD, please reach out for help. There are more out there experiencing exactly the same thing you are. And there is help, there is.”

“A dog seriously changes your life…if you’re a dog person, of course.”

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, call Victoria Police Wellbeing Services on 1300 090 995, Mental Health All-hours Support Line on 1800 628 036 or Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14.

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  1. Well done Ian
    Perhaps Vic Pol or similar could instigate its own instead of relying on other services as we currently do. I know their a a lot of current and ex members who would benefit.

    • I hear you Andy, but how lucky are we to have organisations such as Cavoodle Love looking after us. I’m really hoping to do some more work with them in the future.

  2. Massive thanks to Cavoodle Love, I’m still in regular touch with them and you never know, we may do more work together. Also, Wellbeing Services, Young Diggers (look them up, fantastic organisation), Austin Hospital, The Melbourne Clinic, my peer support Nelson at Veteran’s Welfare and Carla for the story. And to my friends and family who have stuck by me and helped me through some very dark times, including those who have been part of the Melbourne Clinic program with me. PTSD is very real and it goes on still. And most of all, thanks to Ben, he’s a cheeky little character that’s like a shadow. PS he’s topped a whopping 3 kg now.

  3. AND those who nominated me as being a person who deserved little Ben! Without them I would not have him. Phew.

    • I wish him all the best Di. Wellbeing Services were my first call, then there’s lots of help – unfortunately you may have to look for a fair bit of it yourself. I was lucky to have a GP I’ve had for over 30 years and between him and Wellbeing Services I was hooked into the right people. Well, so far. I’m trying not to say I’m suffering PTSD, but learning to manage PTSD. As I type Ben has about five toys at my feet waiting for playtime…there’s also Code 9 and Fighting PTSD VicPol, both great support from within.

  4. Ian, finally got this techno stuff working and opened your story. Great write up. I’d seen photos of Ben and now I seen the owner. You have passed on some great information. Hang in there, I will call soon. Cheers

  5. Clarky, glad that you have found some positivity in your life. Although we haven’t seen one another for years, I have fond memories of a bright eyed trainee taking on the villains of the west. All the best. Hicksy (Ian Hicks)

  6. Thanks Hicksy, only just saw this reply. Hope you’re doing well. I used one of your sayings right to the end – if you want a job done, don’t give it to someone with nothing to do. IC

  7. Cheers Lachlan. They truly are persons best friend. I’ve got out of Victoria (lockdown four really broke me if I wasn’t already) and am settling in to a beachside community between Cairns and Port Douglas. Still getting lots of support from both Victoria and Queensland.

  8. I caught up with Clarky yesterday. Ben is the most well cared for dog I’ve ever seen! Great initiative by Cavoodle Love Sydney. It was great to catch up with an old colleague and a mate doing so well. The weather and Ben have definitely helped!

  9. Hey Ian – a bit late but I’ve only just seen this article. I wish you well in the future and I am very pleased to see that you and Ben are a good double. Many fond memories of our busy times in the Wild, Wild West. Keep well 🙂

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