Moulton Union’s Main Lounge is typically home to alumni dinners, multicultural events and formal gatherings. Thursday night, though, the lounge was home to a special event with visitors from two mental health groups, some of whom stood on four furry legs.
The event, entitled “More than a Best Friend: Maine Paws for Veterans with Post Traumatic Stress,” gathered experts from two non-profits—Maine Paws for Veterans, which trains and matches service dogs with veterans suffering from military-related post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). The event’s goal was to inform Bowdoin students on the issues of mental health faced by veterans and how service dogs can be a helping paw to those suffering from PTSD.
Air Force veteran Rick Hudson, a speaker at the event, struggled with his mental health upon returning from service. His experience led him to Maine Paws for Veterans, from whom he adopted his service dog, a jet black standard poodle named Kirby.
“[Service dog] training had been rewarding. I watched Kirby and myself grow,” Hudson said. “I pushed myself to physical and mental limits. I never imagined I could do this, but together we did.”
Maine Paws for Veterans uses dogs to help repair the PTSD symptom of moral injury in veterans because of the companionship and sense of safety they provide. After an intense 26-week training process, dogs are trained in skills such as helping their owners with crisis intervention, providing a distraction from flashbacks and guiding owners to an exit in an anxiety-inducing situation.
Alaijah Rubianes ’24 planned the event with the goal of creating a space on campus for discussions about the mental health of veterans. The son of an active duty sailor, Rubianes has spent much of his life surrounded by and involved with veteran organizations.
“When I came to college, I noticed that there wasn’t any connection between any veteran organization and Bowdoin,” Rubianes said.
Driven by his passion for supporting veterans groups, he approached Interim Associate Director of the McKeen Center for the Common Good Samantha Cogswell. From there, the project was slowly set into motion.
This semester, Rubianes was accepted into a Student Community Action Network program through the McKeen Center, which funded his internship as an office assistant with Maine Paws for Veterans.
“I just want to share that passion with other people about advocating for mental health. Possibly, having that organization could be a starting point for other students to intern there,” Rubianes said. “We have very [few] veterans on campus, and it’s a whole other community that Bowdoin students typically don’t interact with.… Just to provide any space for that interaction to happen [is exciting], but also providing a space for a discussion of mental health more generally.”
Terri Schlotterbeck, who connected with Maine Paws for Veterans following retirement from her 22-year career in the Navy, now considers the group a family and support system of people who share common experiences.
“[My dog] Ranger and I have been inseparable since the program,” Schlotterbeck said. “And myself and the program have been inseparable. When I graduated [from the program], it was what I was looking for. It was the piece I needed.”
Hudson, too, emphasized that he is forever grateful for Maine Paws for Veterans and is especially indebted to his beloved Kirby.
“Kirby is my savior and so is Maine Paws for Veterans,” he said.