Community banks, service dogs team up to lead veterans through life’s stresses

Katrina Condie | 8 June 2022

Canberra’s Bendigo Bank branches continue to support Integra Services Dogs Australia. Photo: Thomas Lucraft.

A unique relationship between community banking and assistance dogs has helped some of our most valued community members in the most need.

The Community Bank Canberra Group has injected $1.4 million into the region over the last 20 years, lending a hand to vital organisations such as Integra Service Dogs Australia.

Thanks to the support of Bendigo Bank, and other like-minded partners, Integra has placed almost 130 Labrador assistance dogs across Australia since 2016, including in the ACT and surrounding region.

Integra co-founder and CEO Ben Johnson says the Curtin and Calwell branches have been valuable partners and supporters.

The charity specialises in training Labrador assistance dogs for defence members, veterans and first responders including police, fire and emergency services and health care workers with post-traumatic stress injury.

“Without the invaluable financial support offered by the Bendigo Bank, and assistance in raising community awareness of the role assistance dogs play in our community, we would not have been able to continue to deliver the services we offer to those who have served our community,” Ben says.

The Community Bank Canberra Group has provided direct donations of more than $9000 towards supporting the services provided by Integra from 2016 to 2021.

In 2021 the bank was a major sponsor and partner of Integra’s Coast To Coast Ride, a campaign which helped raise awareness about veteran mental health by supporting brothers Brian and Ian Schumacher who cycled 4400 kilometres from Perth to Sydney over five weeks.

“Bendigo Bank worked with Integra to raise awareness, sponsorship and community donations, and promote the work of our charity,” Ben says.

Bendigo Bank’s Curtin branch also provides ongoing support for the financial and banking services of Integra and continues to promote awareness of the role of assistance dogs.

“The branch encourages customers to consider donating to our registered charity,” Ben says.

Supported by Bendigo Bank, the Integra Service Dogs Australia Coast to Coast riders were welcomed to Canberra by Governor-General David Hurley in 2021. Photo: Thomas Lucraft.

Integra dogs are trained to become emotionally tuned to their handlers and provide unconditional support through the trauma and stresses of everyday life.

It costs about $30,000 to train, match and place a dog with a veteran or first responder.

Integra is also a dog training provider contracted to assist the Department of Veterans’ Affairs to support veterans through its Psychiatric Assistance Dog Program.

Psychiatric assistance dogs are trained to perform tasks to help their veteran handler meet their clinical recovery goals, including detecting signs of distress and performing tasks to help alleviate the symptoms.

Bendigo Bank branches in Calwell, Curtin, Jerrabomberra and Wanniassa continue to support local initiatives across sport, arts, infrastructure, education, culture and numerous other community endeavours.

The bank gives up to 80 per cent of its profits back to the community with the aim of developing long-term prosperity by supporting programs that empower local individuals and groups within the community.

Since 2015, the Community Bank Canberra Group has also been a major sponsor of Menslink which supports young men in the Canberra region through its free counselling, volunteer mentoring and education programs.