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16 November, 2020

Guardian angel saves Toby's life

Local navy veteran Toby Waite says he owes his life to his ‘four-legged guardian angel’, his assistance dog Freya.

By Tanya Murphy

Toby Waite and his assistance dog Freya at the memorial to military dogs at the Afghanistan Avenue of Honour in Yungaburra.

He’s leading a campaign to acquire and train more assistance dogs which he says are worth their weight in gold for defence force veterans and other people suffering from mental illness.

“I did my back and shoulder in 2010 and have been living with chronic pain since then, and my mental health took a downward turn,” he said.

“I suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, anxiety and depression. There were a few months when I wasn’t able to leave the house and it was Freya that helped me through it.”

Mr Waite described a recent experience where Freya had helped to calm him through an anxiety attack at Cairns Central.

“I have no idea what triggered it, but I forgot where I was, I started shaking, and she pulled me into the bank, because she knows there’s a chair there.

“I sat there, and she jumped on my lap, and put her head against mine, which is what she’s trained to do.

“She snuggled in until I relaxed and came back around. It took nearly half an hour, but I couldn’t have done it without her.

“Freya goes with me everywhere – the gym, the shops, my psych appointments, she even flies with me on the plane and sits beside me. She will always be by my side.”

Mr Waite started his campaign after realising that many people who could benefit from assistance dogs were unable to get them due to the cost of purchasing, sterilising, microchipping, training and qualifying them.

“Until recently, assistance dogs were not available for military veterans in Cairns, and they are still very hard to get,” he said.

“I’m currently working with mental health professionals to put a care package together for their clients that may benefit from it, so the process is easier for them.

Toby Waite

“I have been put on permanent disability through the Department of Veteran Affairs so I am making it my life's work to raise awareness for mental health and the benefits of having an assistance dog.

“I am working with the DVA to make the process much easier for every veteran to go through the system in gaining an assistance dog.

“Australia has lost more veterans to suicide than we have to the war in Afghanistan.

“If I can assist one veteran a year and prevent them from becoming another tragic statistic, I have achieved my goal.”

Mr Waite is the Assistant Dog Coordinator of Cairns and Tablelands FETCH, a not-for-profit group that assists with training qualified assistance dogs.

He’s also president of the Patriots Military Motorcyle Club - Cairns Chapter, a not-for-profit club for current and former defence force members to get together for social rides, functions and to fundraise for veteran and mental health causes.

This Saturday, November 14, a fundraiser for FETCH will be held at the Patriots’ Club at 65 Oleander Street Holloways Beach, starting at 4:30pm, and all community members, both defence and civilians alike, are invited to attend this family-friendly event.

Mr Waite and Freya have spent the past few months training a donated puppy, Sky. At 6pm at the event on Saturday, Sky will be donated to her new owner, a local 21-year-old woman living with mental and physical illnesses.

There will be a sausage sizzle, car and bike display, raffles and a donation tin and the clubs are hoping to raise $1000 to put towards the next assistance dog. Anyone unable to attend can also donate by contacting the club.

Mr Waite said the club was a safe place for anyone struggling with anxiety or depression, not just defence force members.

“Panic attacks, anxiety, depression, PTSD and other mental illnesses affect almost all of us at some point, so just remember it’s not weak to speak,” he said.

“As a president of a bike club who’s 110 kilograms and covered in tattoos, if I can talk about it, you can too, so don’t become a statistic, reach out to your mates.”

For more information search for “Patriots Australia MMC Cairns Chapter” or “FETCH Cairns & Tablelands” on Facebook.

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