A Scottish man with PTSD said receiving an assistance dog from a veteran's charity "totally changed" his life – and he is calling for volunteers to help more people like him.

Sean McKinnon said his BRAVEHOUND retriever Maggie pulled him "out of a ditch" and made him feel "not as broken anymore". 

The 58-year-old grandfather from East Kilbride served as an aircraft handler in the Royal Navy for almost 20 years, and had harrowing experiences in the first Gulf War and Northern Ireland. 

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After being discharged with a broken neck, he struggled to adjust to civilian life and was eventually diagnosed with PTSD, which led to heavy drinking, anxiety, depression and being unable to leave the house. 

Sean said: "The world collapsed around me, because that was my life. It was my world, it was everything. From that to absolutely nothing, it was very strange. 

The Herald: Sean with his BRAVEHOUND MaggieSean with his BRAVEHOUND Maggie (Image: Sean McKinnon)

"Everything just closes around you. It's like somebody putting a plastic bag on your head. It feels like you're not worth anything anymore."

Like many veterans with PTSD, Sean's marriage broke down. But he was fortunate to have the support of his sister Anja, who became his carer and encouraged him to seek help. 

He received support from Combat Stress and Veterans First Point, who suggested the charity BRAVEHOUND, which provides specialist assistance dogs to veterans with PTSD and other mental health conditions.

That was how he was introduced to Golden Retriever Maggie. 

"The minute we saw each other the connection was just there straight away," Sean said, " She was so beautiful. She was so loving. I was gobsmacked.

“It was as if I’d known her since she was a pup. I’ve got her for life as far as I’m concerned."

The Herald: Sean's sister Anja with Maggie, who says having a BRAVEHOUND saved her brotherSean's sister Anja with Maggie, who says having a BRAVEHOUND saved her brother (Image: Sean McKinnon)

Before, Sean would be unable to leave the house without his sister. He said: "I’d close the curtains, shut the door and bury my head. I never used to go out at all. I was in a little bubble of my own.

"Maggie’s just pulled me out of a ditch. If it wasn’t for her half the things I do I wouldn’t do. She’s made me go outside.

“Now I’ve got a smile on my face every day when I see her. She wakes me up every morning with a smile. She’ll snuggle with me, it’s brilliant. Absolutely fantastic. 

“It’s the best thing they have done giving me a dog. It’s the best thing since sliced bread."

Sean says he can now handle his PTSD with Maggie at his side, who comforts him when he feels anxious or irritable. 

Read more: Scottish veterans charity BRAVEHOUND helps make a difference

He said: “It’s totally changed my life. I’m a completely different person to what I was. If it hadn’t been for them I don’t know what I would have done. I’d have been as miserable as sin. 

“I’ve got my sister and I've got my dog and I’m happier than I think I’ve been in a long, long time.

“I couldn’t talk enough about BRAVEHOUND for helping me have a better life and become more human. I would always put myself down as broken but I’m not as broken any more.”

Sean's sister Anja said: “Having a BRAVEHOUND has saved my brother and it’s saved our relationship. My brother came back from the Gulf War a changed man. I can’t put into words the difference having an assistance dog has made to his life.”

BRAVEHOUND says it is in urgent need of short-term volunteers to continue its mission to help veterans like Sean. 

The Herald: Maggie the Golden Retriever Maggie the Golden Retriever (Image: Sean McKinnon)

The charity pairs volunteers with dogs for up to four months, where the dog will live with the volunteer who will work under the direction of the BRAVEHOUND team to train him or her.

It is also looking for people willing to look after a dog for a much shorter period of time - dog sitters while veterans are on holiday, for instance, or in hospital. 

BRAVEHOUND's operations manager Sarah Plummer said: “We urgently need volunteers, whether that be for a few weeks or longer.
“Like many charities, we rely on goodwill and support from the public to enable us to make a difference.

Read more: How BRAVEHOUNDS are helping traumatised soldiers 
“Donating your time is a great way to help us and our volunteer positions would particularly suit someone who is retired but wants to stay fit and active. 

“We pay for dog’s food, equipment, veterinary care so all you need to provide is your time and, of course, you are fully supported by the BRAVEHOUND team.
“Volunteering with us is a great way to have and enjoy a dog without committing to looking after one full-time and as BRAVEHOUND Buddy you will be helping to change a life."

Anyone interested can email hello@bravehound.co.uk or call 0141 739 8940.