Where do I start with this? I grew up the only child in an Armed Forces family (brats unite!). We even spent a couple of years in Germany, where I learned (and in the 20 years since have mostly forgotten) to speak German.
The idea for Troop Mates came as I was looking at old photos of my best friend and confidante growing up; a beautiful, intelligent and loyal black lab named Lady. Lady was my EVERYTHING. She was incredibly smart, and was initially obtained and trained as my dad’s hunting dog. Most of his hunting buddies were in awe of just how well she listened, and was in tune to his cues and commands. The whole neighbourhood knew about the great black lab.
She was my protector; she’d stay near me whenever I want to play outside, and slept at the foot of my bed, keeping the monsters away. She was patient when I dressed her up. She sat under the table and ate the stuff I didn’t like. I’ll never forget how excited she’d get on hot summer days, when we’d drive out to the lake for a swim and a picnic. I’m sure her whining to let her out of the car sounded like “NOW, THERE’S WATER OVER THERE AND I WANT TO GO NOW “ and was heard from quite a distance. Life was awesome as long as I had my best friend with me.
Then the news; Dad got posted, and we were moving. My eight year old self thought, “We’ve done this before, moving means a new house and a new school, and lots of boxes. Ok, no big deal, right?”
Except this news was different; we were moving to a really far-away place called Germany, and Lady couldn’t come with us. She’d be sent to live with my grandfather while we were overseas. My universe, and time…. stopped.
Germany was a whole new planet as far as I was concerned. A planet where people dressed funny, talked funny, the TV shows, the music and the food were different. The place my parents worked and where I went to school were on this thing called a “base”, which was surrounded by what my mind saw as building-tall fencing, topped with barbed wire. And to top it off, every single building was dark green. It was like we moved into a big green cement jungle.
Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t all bad. Our school day trips consisted of things like visiting castles and the Rhine; our family spent weekends participating in Volksmarches, and both Christmas holidays were spent skiing in the Swiss Alps; there are good memories from my time in Germany. But there was always something missing.
My grades slipped, my normal zest for life…wasn’t so zesty anymore. Nothing made me happy. More and more I wanted to go home, to what I knew as home. My parents did EVERYTHING to make me feel better, gave me everything I asked for. I felt completely lost in a huge place that I didn’t really feel I belonged in.
All that changed one glorious, magical day. My parents told me we needed to stop by the base airport quickly after school, which was not an uncommon occurrence. So, at the end of the day, we jump in the car and go.
The package waiting for us was one I will never forget. A grey, nondescript object sat near the entrance to the air carrier bay loading dock. As we walked closer, I noticed it had what looked like a grated door on the front of it, and something dark was moving inside…no, it couldn’t be…could it?
Then Lady barked! Because Lady was there! Right in front of me! How is this happening?? My parents somehow managed to get her the proper documentation to bring her over, and for that I will be forever grateful.
My outlook on life skyrocketed. My grades went up. Things went from “I’ll never make friends here; I can’t even talk to people” to “Who cares if I don’t understand what that kid is saying to me? Hey kid, I have my awesome dog, here, would you like to pet her? And at the same time, let’s be friends!!”
Having my friend back at my side made life good again. I was no longer alone in a strange land.
I started the idea of Troop Mates for a few reasons. The main reason is because I can personally attest to the healing power of having an animal as a friend and confidante, at a time when you need support the most. Pets and working animals give of themselves unconditionally, and having that support when you need it makes all the difference. The comfort I received from Lady was one thing. The service that therapy animals provide to ill and injured Canadian Armed Forces members, Veterans and their families is quite another.
Through Troop Mates, I’m offering a complimentary photography session to soldiers, veterans and first responders with service animals within the Ottawa, Eastern Ontario and Western Quebec area; to photographically document the positive impact these animals have had on their humans.
If permission is granted by the person, a short story of how the animal has helped them will be posted on my website. The page dedicated to Troop Mates can include links encouraging people to familiarize themselves with organizations who match these brave men and women with their animals, potentially increasing the number of animals that can be placed with those in need of a companion.
Another hope is that Troop Mates will garner momentum; other pet photographers from across the globe will hopefully want to join the project, creating a network of participating photographers; this would potentially further increase the visibility of these types of programs and the services they offer, as well as the benefits provided by service and therapy animals to Armed Forces members and Veterans.