Life changing

Man’s very best friend

Craig MacLellan served in the Royal Marines and the British Army. He joined up when he was just 16 and served in Northern Ireland, where he survived an IRA bombing that killed some of his colleagues. But it was when Craig left the Army that his real battle began.

Within five years, Craig was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. At times it got so bad he couldn’t get out of bed and he would spend days on end not being able to leave the house. Then, in 2007, six months into his breakdown, Craig decided his life wasn’t worth living. “I took my dog, Fudge, with me to assess the place I’d picked to end my life. But when we approached it, she froze. I found myself saying, ‘It’s ok. I’m not going to do anything girl’, and I kept my promise.”

Instead, he sought help. And during a residential therapy course with the chocolate Labrador by his side, he began to see a light at the end of the tunnel he’d been locked in.

He could also see how Fudge comforted the 16 others being treated there, helping them to open up. Dogs, he realised, could be the key to helping tough ex-military men tackle their demons.

That realisation led Craig to get his own assistance dog, Boo, specifically trained to give him practical help. After painstaking research, he went on to set-up Veterans With Dogs – and now it’s helping to give military heroes their lives back.

“Dogs can make a difference to even the most damaged human spirit. A dog doesn’t judge. You can cry or fall apart and it will stay by your side. A dog makes you get up, go out and talk to others. It gives your life a purpose.”

Dogs can make a difference to even the most damaged human spirit. A dog doesn’t judge. You can cry or fall apart and it will stay by your side. A dog makes you get up, go out and talk to others. It gives your life a purpose.

A four-legged friend trained by Veterans With Dogs goes much further, reminding its owner to take their medication, eat, shower and get dressed. The dogs can even switch on the light when nightmares hit and are a soothing presence through the darkest panic attacks.

Veterans leave the charity’s centre transformed – and with a trusted lifeline on the lead beside them.

Starting the charity has helped build a future for Craig and his wife Christine. “All the experiences I have been through – the bad and good – have brought me to where I am now, helping others. I am humbled by what I hear from the people we are able to help. Thank you to all those who have helped make it happen.”

More than £35 million of lottery funding is going to help to veterans, like Craig, and improve the civilian lives of ex-Service personnel and their families.

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