A rural Grand Forks woman who lives with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is asking for the public’s help as she trains her service dog, Jake.
Rae-Lynne Dicks, a former emergency services operator and dispatcher, said she’s come a long way in the 20 years since she handled a 911 call that left her increasingly unable to function.
Like many first-responders who suffer from PTSD, Dicks said she stayed on the job after the incident. Meanwhile, her experience overshadowed everything she held dear. She left her marriage and her job, and on more than one occasion, Dicks said she tried to take her own life.
More than anything, Dicks said she was gripped by fear and anger. Not knowing how to cope, she said she treated her symptoms the only way she knew how.
“I stuck my head in a vodka bottle,” she said. “After three attempts at taking my life through vodka and pills … I came to the conclusion that, if I’m going to live this life, it has to be better than this.”
Newly clean and sober and with only a Grade 12 education at the time, Dicks said she put herself through a bachelor’s degree in criminology, which she followed up with a master’s degree in criminal justice.
“One of the things that I wanted to do with my master’s was to find out, ‘am I the only one?’,” she explained.
In her groundbreaking research project, Dicks said she compiled and detailed the incidence of PTSD in Canadian first-responders. She had not been alone.
Dicks continues to manage the way she deals with anxiety and stress, especially in public spaces. Jake’s job as a service dog is to focus her attention on him when she feels upset. In turn, Dicks said that looking after Jake’s needs has helped her re-adjust to a healthier sleep schedule.
At 10-months old, Jake is still learning the ropes. He needs to get used to doing his job around people he doesn’t know, Dicks explained. But it hasn’t been easy for her to socialize the pup during the pandemic, especially because she can’t wear a face mask without triggering a panic attack. Dicks wants people to know that she and Jake very much want to be part of their community, but she would ask that people respect certain boundaries for the safety of service dogs and their handlers. Treat service dogs’ vests as if they’re uniforms. Uniformed dogs are on-the-job, so please don’t distract their attention be engaging with them without their handler’s consent.
“If we’re having a good day, my answer’s going to be ‘yes,’” Dick said. But not every day is a good day.
Jake needs to familiarize himself with the hum drum of ordinary life. It would be a huge help to Dicks, who walks Jake through Grand Forks most afternoons, if downtown business owners would invite her and Jake in during non-peak hours so they can practice coming and going from busy places.
Dicks would like everyone to know that Jake has plenty of dog friends, but that she has to be vigilant when it comes to his safety. She is careful about what dogs she will let Jake play with off-lead because even minor injuries, like muscle strains, can take Jake temporarily out of action.
Jake is named after Dicks’ recently departed mentor at emergency services, Jackie “Jake” Williamson. As a rookie 911 operator, Dicks said Williamson “kicked my ass a couple of times for being dumb. But she always supported me when I was right.”
Williamson was always there for her, just as she and Jake will be always be there for each other.