PTSD service dog meets family of firefighter who took his own life

A service dog named in memory of an Edmonton firefighter and former draft pick for the Edmonton Oilers was given a hero's welcome on Sunday.

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Bolt is a post-traumatic stress disorder service dog. Dogs like Bolt are trained to help first responders overcome trauma. The volunteer organization United By Trauma provides the dogs to emergency workers affected by PTSD.

Bolt is still in training, but will soon be ready for work, the organization's co-founder, Nicole Taylor, told CTV Edmonton.

On Sunday, Bolt was welcomed to the city by the family of Brad Symes. Symes, a former Edmonton firefighter and draft pick for the Oilers, took his own life after struggling with PTSD.

His father, Stan Symes, was ecstatic to meet Bolt, who was named after the main cartoon canine in the 2008 Disney film "Bolt." Brad Symes often watched the film with his two sons, family members say.

"I can't tell you how I feel right now," Stan Symes said as he hugged the dog on Sunday, and then gave him a scratch behind his ears.

Stan Symes, who worked as a fire chief before retiring, said it's critically important that first responders seek help to cope with their experiences on the job.

"If they have a traumatic incident, they have to sit down and talk about it," he said. "They can't hold it in, and if they hold it in, they have to seek help… it may not affect them right yet, but down the road it will."

United By Trauma says requests for PTSD service dogs come from all over the country, and sometimes they receive as many as 10 requests per week.

"It's heart-wrenching, but the need is there. And that's what keeps us going with that need and drive and passion to help out other first responders," co-founder Taylor said.

Stan Symes says the organization is providing a valuable service to emergency workers in need.

"What they're doing here is just beyond words, it's incredible," he said. "Finally, somebody has recognized mental health problems in first responders, and they're actually doing something about it."

With a report from CTV Edmonton’s Amanda Anderson


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