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Trevallyn man says service dog saved his life

Mental and physical struggles left veteran Mark Charlton in a dark place.

After being medically discharged from the Australian Defence Force at 23, Mr Charlton struggled to adjust to civilian life.

Mr Charlton entered the military when he was 19 years old.

But a debilitating back condition cut his military career short in the late 1990s.

“It’s really been very, very hard,” Mr Charlton said.

The Trevallyn man said his spinal canal was narrowed, and it worsened with age. “You don’t realise how much you rely on your back until it’s buggered,” he said.

The 41-year-old is limited in what he can do, and uses a wheelchair and a walker for walking short distance for get around.

He has post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.

Last year, he hit a low point, with his mental and physical struggles compounded by social isolation.

It was then he made the life-changing decision to acquire a service dog.

Bess, a black labrador who was flown over from Melbourne, is now seven-months-old.

Meeting Bess saved his life, according to Mr Charlton.

Mr Charlton struggled to find mediums to train Bess.

But he found Sydney-based couple Ryan and Jennifer Tate, who run TATE Animal Training Enterprises, after seeing Mr Tate on a television program.

Through regular contact and a visit, the Tates have helped Mr Charlton train Bess.

Bess can wake up from a deep sleep straight away when Mr Charlton drops something on the floor.
When Mr Charlton had a fall and was knocked out, she barked and sat on him until he woke up.
“She’s learning every day … she’s learning to grab things that are heavier, things like saucepans,” he said.

It will take about two years of extensive training for Bess to be a fully-trained assistance dog.
Mr Charlton said having Bess “really helped”.

Her companionship, and simply her presence, are soothing for Mr Charlton.

“She basically just follows you around like a bad smell,” he said.

“There’s been times where it’s been really, really hard and she won’t leave your side,” he said.