Service dog trainer and veteran Tyson King is training Groot to help him with his own PTSD. Groot is replacing his longtime service dog Cully, who he recently retired to a fellow veteran as a pet. (Hugo Wong/News Staff)

Central Saanich veteran finds calling as a service dog trainer

Service dog helped Tyson King deal with post-traumatic stress disorder

When Retired Master Seaman Tyson King could no longer walk on grass for fear of mines and suffered serious night terrors he knew to reach for help.

King expected to spend the rest of his career working in the military. Originally an Army reservist, he was deployed as part of Operation Harmony for two peacekeeping tours in the former Yugoslavia before transferring to the Navy. However, 20 years after his time in the Battle of Medak Pocket, his PTSD symptoms became severe.

“A lot of things piled up at the same time, and when it came out, it was like the whole deck of cards blew right over. I completely fell apart,” said King.

At his lowest, he reached out to other veterans, who told him about Courageous Companions, a charity that provides service dogs to veterans and first responders. He was paired with Cully, an Australian shepherd, and found his new calling as a service dog trainer. His business, VI K9, now trains service dogs to aid people with PTSD, seizures and other medical issues.

Memory of Medak Pocket

About 500 peacekeepers, King among them, advanced down a single road to a negotiated ceasefire line. As they approached, they faced a military roadblock. In the distance, King heard gunshots and saw houses go up in smoke. They suspected ethnic cleansing was happening in the town.

The peacekeepers were also outgunned, with Croatian anti-tank guns pointed at their lightly armoured personnel carriers.

“If things went messy, we knew we didn’t have too much of a chance,” said King.

As they waited and tensions rose, Lt.-Col. James Calvin called for the embedded journalists to join him at the front of the line. Calvin held an impromptu press conference with a Croatian general in the background, as a pressure tactic to allow the Canadians through. The gambit worked.

Over the next several days, King helped clean up charred homes, recovering bodies so hot they would melt the body bags they were placed in. He saw another body with a gunshot wound in the back of his head, slippers on his feet, and a locket with a family photo in his hand. He was likely executed in the night.

“That was two months worth of hell,” said King, adding other soldiers experienced far worse.

Return home and a new calling

When he returned home to Saskatoon, King said soldiers had an informal peer counselling group over coffee, but in later professional counselling, he learned that was not enough. Decades later, symptoms emerged and became unbearable until he paired with Cully. If the stress was severe, Cully would jump onto his chest and raise his paw, making it impossible for King not to notice.

“It took four months to clue in to exactly what was going on,” said King.

After months of training to understand each other’s needs, King and Cully went thorough six days of certification testing instead of three – since King was the first Navy sailor on the West Coast with a service dog. They performed so well that trainer George Leonard suggested King become a trainer himself. King was medically released from the military, and found his new calling.

So far, he’s fully trained three dogs, with another five in various stages of training to aid PTSD, autism, physical assistance, seizures, or a combination. He said the work was a source of pride for him, and a new start.

He hopes the B.C. government will up the standards when granting licences to service dogs, and for a federal standard of testing that allow a dog’s credentials to be recognized across provincial borders. He also wants to see increased funding for service dogs, as the training process takes years and can be quite costly.

EPIC (Empowering People, Inspiring Canines) is a new charity aiming to help with the cost of service dogs (that features Cully on their Facebook page), and King hopes more groups like that will raise the funds until the government will step up.

“The more we can get the word out about this new society, the better.”


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Just Posted

Saanich Peninsula firefighters look to douse hunger with annual food drive

The Peninsula Firefighters Christmas Food Drive happens Saturday

VIDEO: ‘Life-saving’ Fix-A-Heart campaign hits $40,000 two weeks in

Canadian Tire on track to surpass 2018 donation of $41,445

Woman injured during West Shore RCMP arrest prompts police watchdog investigation

IIO investigating to determine if police action or inaction linked to woman’s injuries

UPDATED: Saanich structure fire sparked in child daycare

Motorists advised to avoid the area of the highway, Glanford Avenue, Royal Oak Drive and Quadra Street off ramp

‘Not a decision I came to lightly:’ Scheer to resign as Conservative leader

Decision comes after weeks of Conservative infighting following the October election

‘British Columbians are paying too much’: Eby directs ICBC to delay rate application

Attorney General David Eby calls for delay in order to see how two reforms play out

Greater Victoria wanted list for the week of Dec. 10

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

POLL: Do you have a real or artificial Christmas tree?

The lights are up, holiday shoppers are bustling through the streets and… Continue reading

VIDEO: Octopus, bald eagle battle after bird ‘bites off more than it can chew’ in B.C. waters

B.C. crew films fight between the two feisty animals in Quatsino off north Vancouver Island

Couple who bought $120k banana duct-taped to wall say artwork will be ‘iconic’

Pair compared it to Warhol’s ‘Campbell’s Soup Cans,’ which was initially ‘met with mockery’

Race to replace Andrew Scheer could be a crowded one

Many familiar faces, such as Maxime Bernier, Jason Kenney, Doug Ford and Kevin O’Leary, have said no

B.C. seniors need better vaccine protection, advocate says

Home support down, day programs up in annual rating

Most Read