Established in 2012, Veterans With Dogs was founded by armed forces veteran Craig MacLellan, a PTSD sufferer, whose life was transformed by his relationship with Fudge, a chocolate Labrador.
Having been diagnosed with PTSD, Craig undertook a sixweek residential course with veterans’ mental health charity Combat Stress, to aid his recovery.
Craig’s clinical notes showed that his dogs were a linchpin for him, so he was given special permission to take Fudge along for a three-week stay.
What happened next changed everything.
Fudge didn’t just help facilitate Craig’s therapy but that of the other men and women in his group.
Intuitively, this remarkable dog found those in most need, sitting patiently with them until they slowly came back into the present moment, letting the individual open up in their own time, talking through her to the rest of the group.
It was obvious to everyone – both staff and the veterans – that Fudge had a huge impact on the course and the outcomes of their therapy.
This set Craig thinking. If he could find a way to take Fudge’s abilities and train them in other dogs, he could help other veterans too.
Inspired by his experience and those of his colleagues, Craig researched available support in the UK. While America, Canada, Australia and Holland all had a long history of using assistance dogs for veterans, no such programme existed in this country.
So, to fill this void, Craig embarked on a journey with his wife Chrissie. Together, they set up Veterans With Dogs to train and provide assistance dogs for current and former members of the British Armed Forces with service-related mental health conditions.
Today, its PALS (Partner Animals Life Skills) training programme produces highly effective assistance dog partnerships aiding mental health. The charity funds animal behaviourists, experienced assistance dog trainers, mental health professionals and practitioners.
Chrissie MacLellan, Craig’s wife and Trustee of the charity, explains: “It takes around 27 months for a veteran and their dog to pass the full programme. It’s a journey for both, encompassing home support and residential courses that bond and make the pairing stronger. But it doesn’t end there. Each year they undergo assessments to maintain their accredited assistance dog status. It’s a process that changes the lives of the veterans – saving many in the process.”
Funding is key for any charity and increasing demand for assistance dogs means that Veterans With Dogs is growing at a rapid pace. Their research shows that approximately 54,000 veterans may experience PTSD in the next 10 years, 4,000 of whom will be discharged for mental health issues.
Costing approximately £20,000 to train and support just one dog through to the end of its working life, the charity is responsible for hundreds of thousands of pounds each year. Currently, 8-10 dogs are trained each year, but its goal is 35, and to have a permanent national centre by 2024.
Helping Veterans With Dogs keep on top of its accounts is Simpkins Edwards, which has a specialist team with expertise in not-for-profit businesses and charities.
Sebastian Beard, Partner at the firm explains: “We’re hugely privileged to work with organisations that help transform the lives of people for the better.
“In Veterans With Dogs’ case, our local team are responsible for the charity’s management accounting and we are able to undertake an independent examination of the Annual Report and Financial Statements with partner input from another office, in accordance with Charity Commission Guidance.
“We’re responsible for processing donations, funds awarded to the charity, and for handling the charity’s expenses – covering everything from leads, equipment and dog food, to trainer’s accommodation cost.
“We help the team balance income with outgoings and provide direct access to the software, which means that Chrissie and her team can extract information for budgeting purposes. This enables key programmes, such as PALS, to be funded.
“Currently, we’re in the process of making their management reporting as efficient as possible, which is critical in securing successful applications for funds. We’re building the coding structure in Xero cloud software that will streamline reporting and track KPIs, assisting with budgeting and forecasting.”
Commenting on Veterans With Dogs’ relationship with Simpkins Edwards, Chrissie MacLellan says: “We currently have three full-time members of staff as well as 40 volunteers and ten socialisers. It’s a full-on job, leaving us little time to focus on the books. We realised that if we were to grow, we needed to outsource this to experts, enabling us to focus on running the charity.
“That’s where Simpkins Edwards stepped in. With their help, we’re able to analyse the figures, to look at spending and costs and to plan more effectively for the future. Their work on the Annual Report gives greater clarity, enabling us to be more successful in bidding for funds.
“But what really sets them apart is the fact that they are always there to provide advice. If there’s something that we don’t know, we can pop-in or pick-up the phone. Nothing is too much trouble. It’s a relationship that you simply don’t get with other accountants. We can’t praise them highly enough.”
Veterans With Dogs has been able to support over 100 veterans to date. However, with a waiting list of around 12+ months, more funds are needed so that more veterans with mental health issues can succeed in achieving a better quality of life. veteranswithdogs.org.uk/01626 798030