Source: ABC News (Extract)
Posted: February 26, 2023

Usually, when someone gives a home to a rescue dog, the person is the one doing the saving.

But when Megan Parker adopted former race greyhound Frank 18 months ago, it ended up being the dog who saved her.

“He wasn’t in great nick when we got him. He was underweight and his fur was all falling out. He was a bit of a mess,” Ms Parker said.

“(But) from the minute he came I just loved him. He’s really changed my life.”

A former NSW Police officer, Ms Parker was medically discharged with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) 10 years before Frank joined the family.

A decade on the force had taken its toll and some tough jobs near the end of her career pushed the now 43-year-old Wollongong resident over the edge.

She stopped sleeping properly, some nights only managing 20 minutes. The sleep deprivation led to a self-perpetuating cycle of depression and anxiety that was devastating for her and her young family.

“I was pretty much at the stage of ‘nothing can help me — I’m just going to be depressed and bad and not live my best life anymore’,” Ms Parker said.

She visited psychologists and psychiatrists, and had two stints in a post traumatic stress hospital that lasted weeks at a time.

“It was horrible, being away from the family. My kids were only little so it was pretty tough,” she said.

Eventually, Ms Parker felt she had no choice but to accept that life would never be the same again. As well as struggling with poor sleep, she stopped socialising or exercising, barely leaving the house.

Ten years after her discharge, her dog-enthusiast daughter pushed her to adopt a greyhound through Greyhounds as Pets.

“It was during lockdown — she filled in the application and while my husband was asleep got his finger and pressed the OK button. That’s how we got Frank,” Ms Parker said, laughing.

“I didn’t know what he would be like when we got him. I didn’t know if he would be bitey or if he would be a bit crazy.

“He was a bit confused, because he’d never been in a house before. He was obsessed with watching the dishwasher and the television. But from day one, he was so calm and beautiful.”

The family already had a dog, a 10-year-old miniature schnauzer called Odie. But something was immediately different for Ms Parker when Frank joined the family.

“Odie’s a dog. I love him to death, but he’s my dog,” she said.

“But Frank, he’s like a companion, he’s a friend. I don’t know if that’s because he’s really big and he’s so calm and he follows me everywhere, it’s just a different relationship.

“The amount of anxiety I had was terrible, it was debilitating. Since having Frank, I’ve joined a gym, I’m going out a lot more … it’s helped my sleep and my mood.

Her husband — a serving police officer — even borrows six-year-old Frank after a particularly tough shift.

Ms Parker’s story of PTSD recovery was incidental: Frank was never intended to be an emotional support dog. But it was also inspirational.

It has led to a collaboration between police union the Australian Federal Police Association and racing industry bodies Greyhound Racing NSW and Greyhounds Australasia.

The program, dubbed “Greyhounds as Mates”, offers other officers and firefighters with PTSD the chance to adopt dogs retrained to serve as companion animals.

They represent a small but important share of the thousands of greyhounds rehomed each year Australia-wide after the animals are either retired from racing or discarded by the industry. Many more unwanted or unsuitable dogs are euthanised.

Greyhounds Australasia chairman Robert Vellar, a former police officer, has been one of the drivers behind the union between law enforcement and the racing sector.

“I fully understand the trauma that police face in their daily workloads,” he said.

“The aim is to facilitate the perfect partnership involving the welfare of these beautiful greyhounds and the welfare of first responders.”

Australian Federal Police Association president Alex Caruana said police were at high risk of developing PTSD but having a support animal helped them gain independence, manageable routines and exercise.

“As an animal lover, I am personally thrilled that these wonderful dogs are able to help people in this way and at the same time ‘retire’ into a loving environment where they will be showered with love, trust and lots of treats,” he said.

Ms Parker and Frank’s symbiotic relationship is a shining example of the power of the program.