Veterans’ get $300,000 funding boost for more support dogs

Masonic Charities Trust partner with RSBs OPK9 Program

A waiting list will be shortened for Veterans in desperate need of post-traumatic stress assistance dogs after a $300,000 donation to the Royal Society for the Blind.

The gift by Masonic Charities will allow the Royal Society for the Blind (RSB) to expand its Operation K9 (OPK9) program, which provides assistance dogs for Veterans who have been clinically diagnosed with post-traumatic stress (PTS) through their operational service with the Australian Defence Force.

The OPK9 program, part of the RSB’s Guide and Assistance Dog Service, has been so successful in providing valuable therapeutic and practical support to Veterans that there is a significant waiting list.

New funding from Masonic Charities will enable extra dogs and trainers for the in-demand program, and help boost volunteer numbers, to ensure more veterans can be partnered with the RSB’s wonderful dogs.

As of January 2021, the RSB has provided 42 dogs to Veterans. Matching an assistance dog to a Veteran can take several months and involves families, medical and allied health professionals and RSB staff.

An RSB assistance dog is trained to interrupt impulsive or negative behaviours and perform tasks, such as retrieving medication, which provide support, comfort , independence and social interaction to a Veteran to decrease their depression, anxiety and stress.

Clinical research into the impact of the OPK9 program by the University of Adelaide’s Centre for Traumatic Stress Studies revealed participants’ depression, anxiety and stress reduced by up to 40 per cent from treatment baseline scores, alcohol use fell by 15 per cent over 12 months, and social and family functioning increased by up to 45 per cent.

David Booker, the Grand Master of the Freemasons of South Australia and the Northern Territory, said his organisation’s charity arm responded to a request for financial assistance to meet a growing demand for a program that significantly contributed to the ongoing welfare of distressed Veterans.

“The OPK9 program has achieved significant success over the years since its inception but faces an ever increasing demand for the invaluable and life-changing service that it provides,” Mr Booker said.

“Freemasonry has long had an association with the Australian Defence Force, with many servicemen being proud Freemasons. This grant is a wonderful reflection of the community origins of both the Freemasons and the RSB, reflecting the common ground both have in supporting the local community.”

RSB Executive Director Damian Papps said the OPK9 program was a remarkable success story that would continue to set a national benchmark with the support of organisations such as Masonic Charities.

“Our Assistance Dog Program has become a valuable resource to the clinicians and medical professionals treating PTS,” Mr Papps said. “To be able to provide a program that has such impact and significance to the Veteran community is an incredible privilege.”