Juliet & Stark

A New Beginning…

Meet Juliet, a 54-year-old retired RCMP officer, friend, mother, runner, lover of animals, toy collector and PADS’ very first recipient of a Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Service Dog. Juliet radiates a gentle spirit and immense courage, but her eyes tell a story of one who has seen too much. If you spend some time with her, you will discover a playful, witty side that looks for joy in everyday moments.

Today Juliet is sharing with the PADS family—through kind messages and through Stark’s eyes on his Facebook page—just how special those ordinary moments are now that PADS PTSD Service Dog Stark has joined her world:

“I live in Vancouver, which is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. October 30th was the first time in years that I’ve been to Stanley Park in the daytime without my running group or a support team. It was just Stark and me on a beautiful fall day!”

A walk in the park is something most of us take for granted. When we are prevented from going, it is due to deadlines and errands, not crippling anxiety and paralyzing fear. Juliet described her life before Stark to guests at a recent PADS graduation:

“I retired from the RCMP with 11 years and 78 days of service. My life is very lonely. I trust no one. I spend most of the time alone in the safety of my house with my pets. I dislike all holidays and celebrations because they were never happy in my family. I dissociate and can spend hours and days in this state. I have my groceries delivered, have someone clean my house, do my shopping online and some days I cannot open my front door to retrieve the mail. I struggle with self-worth and hold myself back from making connections with people. I am on medication for depression, insomnia, night terrors and anxiety attacks.”

She also shared a brief education on acute anxiety disorder and complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD)—which is different than Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)—it results from repeated or prolonged traumatic events such as childhood sexual and/or physical abuse, psychological abuse, domestic violence, and captivity, including as a kidnapping victim, prisoner of war, or hostage. With these events, the victim is under the control of another person and does not have the ability to easily escape.

Sadly, Juliet’s life included most of these. Her childhood was bitterly painful, with prolonged sexual and psychological abuse. As an adult, her life took a devastating turn while she was working as a flight attendant on a routine trip from Hong Kong to Dubai. Juliet was drugged, kidnapped and held hostage—sexually assaulted and beaten to unconsciousness—for days before she managed to escape.

Later, seeking purpose and meaning, Juliet decided to take control of her past and her life. She set her mind to becoming an RCMP officer. Her first posting was out of Whalley in Surrey, BC. It was trial by fire: breaking up a domestic violence situation, arresting a drunk driver or apprehending a child for the Ministry of Children and Family Development. She describes how, with her uniform on, she felt like Superman—no situation made her feel unsafe or worried. But sometime in 2010, after five years of general duty policing in Whalley, her shell began to crack. Juliet was used to dealing with violent situations, men twice her size, drug addicts and gang members. But it was dealing with three female suicide victims in a two-month period that got to her.

The symptoms started slowly: two to three hours of sleep between shifts, regular anxiety attacks, flashbacks at work that she didn’t understand, breaking down in tears in the safety of the patrol car after call outs, falling frequently while walking, loss of sense of balance and direction, the inability to complete tasks. She continued to work 15- to 18-hour shifts but her focus was gone. She describes one night: “Sitting in my patrol car I typed up a report which took me two hours. When I went to proofread it, the entire report was made up of nonsensical words. That scared me.” Shortly after this, she had dropped someone at Surrey Memorial Hospital and was driving back to Whalley when she zoned out. When she came to, her patrol car was on the median on King George Highway. That night in 2010 was her first medical leave. For nearly four years she sought help and attempted multiple returns to work before finally being diagnosed with complex PTSD in 2015. She retired from the RCMP with 11 years and 78 days of service to a very lonely life.

Stark was born and raised at PADS, spending much of his puppy-hood alongside one of his raisers, Catherine (a psychologist) in her private practice. It was here where he first showed an affinity for providing support to those who were hurting. At the age of 2, he returned to PADS to begin advanced training. Stark was a smart, confident, old soul whose training progressed nicely despite several “speed bumps” along the way. One day while playing too hard he was injured and spent months recovering. There was some uncertainty about what direction his future path should take, until the realization that he was, at heart, a PTSD Service Dog…and PADS didn’t yet have applicants. Today, PADS staff look back with a smile, finally understanding that Stark was waiting for Juliet.
His impact in both the little things and the big things, has been profound.

Juliet’s words on graduation day describe their early days together:

Stark makes me feel safe and he is helping me recapture trust. We have learned grounding and breathing techniques that help calm and dissipate my anxiety. He promotes integration and activity into my life. He brings routine. He suppresses my hyper-vigilance, he provides a physical barrier when someone gets too close to me. Stark recognizes when I am anxious, he will physically redirect and position himself in a way where I have to touch him or pet him. When I have nightmares or night terrors Stark will nudge and push against me. Stark provides unconditional love and support; he lets me know that I am not alone.”

Want to follow Juliet & Stark’s adventures? Check them out on Facebook