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A Dog For Shannon

When Shannon initially called me on the phone, I immediately knew that a Coton de Tulear could be the best partner for Shannon.  I felt that he had thought over and over the way he was going to proceed not only to help himself in his healing journey, but how he would help others with PTSD in the future.  I felt that this was a wonderful mission since my little Cotons have always shown me their abilities as “healers”.


Therapies dogs have been used for many years now, but Shannon’s needs were very specific.  He needed a Coton to reflect his emotional ups and down and bring Shannon to balance in stressful situation.  Shannon was still struggling with faith and hopes to adjust his life with PTSD.  I could feel his invisible pain of past traumatic experiences while he was on the line of duty.  


Since I had suffered PTSD after a life threatening equine accident a few years back, I knew exactly how he felt.  Medication did not work for me as they target only the “fear” part of your brain.
Animals have always been my healers and I adopted my first Coton for the same reason as Shannon.  The difference is that I did not know.


I spent hours watching every puppy in Flora’s litter. Flora was a happy, intelligent, obedient female and so was the father.  The grandmother and grandfather had the same ability and desire to communicate with people.  The best pick was easy and DEVON CREAM was from the start the puppy that came to me even when barely crawling as he developed, he continued to show a preference for people over his siblings.  


At different period of Devon’s development, I completed evaluations of “Devon”:  social attraction, following, restraint, forgiveness (social dominance) retrieving, touch sensitivity, 2nd social dominance, sound sensitivity, sight sensitivity and energy level.  Since I had years of experience with imprinting my foals at birth, I had a clear direction.  At times I have asked my friends to help me to do the evaluations.  His scores were always amazing.


I spent a great deal of time with Devon to make sure that he was exposed to everything now and this way nothing in the future would be a surprise for him.  Super desensitivity, super communication, verbal and intuitive communication from the start of his life. I was myself astonished by the results of the time spent with Devon.  Later I created different mini situation for Devon always evaluating and imprinting.

Today Devon is first of all a wonderful companion for Shannon.  When he puts on his little orange coat, he is an “emotional support therapy dog”.  He is allowed to be with Shannon all the time, everywhere, on planes etc.  Devon is a medically prescribed therapy Coton de Tulear.


Diane Benaroch,
Cotonfield Coton de Tulear






Shannon Pennington is retired Warrant Officer having served in the Canadian Forces regular and reserves.  He has served 26 years full time as a line firefighter heavy rescue medic with the Calgary Fire Dept.  He was diagnosed with posttraumatic stress in Feb. of 2000 – and is on full disability for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  He is actively engaged in advocacy for first Responders in Canada and United States assisting those affected by PTSD as a result of being exposed to a number of traumatic experiences in his line of duty.  He is currently senior Chief and the executive director of North American Firefighter Veterans Network on the Internet: He bring over 38 years as a first responder to solve issues around PTSD and find more   solutions that work for veterans’ in recovery from trauma.


How did you come about to decide that a Coton de Tulear would be the partner to
Help you dealing with your PTSD healing journey?


I love dogs.  I had done a lot of researches on the Internet about small breed dogs, which I felt would be able to easily fit into my lifestyle 24 hrs. a day inclusive of travelling, while I educate other responders about PTSD.  


Secondly the Coton breed stood out has having outstanding breed characteristics, including temperament, intelligence, happy demeanor, longevity, adaptivity– to social Environments such as large crowds, malls, meeting, noises, seminars where he accompanies me.  


The breed is extremely “tuned in” to the human conditions that we find ourselves in, good and bad.  As such, they tend to invite a happy well-balanced outlook in their temperament, which has a direct positive effect on my emotional outlook.

How does your Coton reacts to you when he knows your mood starts being affected by the PTSD?


He will remain very close to me. If I am sitting he will put his head on my laps, until I pet him and start paying attention to him. Because I have complexed PTSD, it is extremely invasive in my thinking process and requires a long period of time up to an hour for me to calm, center and balance and gain harmony with the Coton sense of calm, centereness and balance, which the breed has as a natural part of their personalities.  WE buddy up to close emotional support.


That quality produces a “game change” in my overall quality of life and attitude.  It allows me to function in my capacity as an executive director of our First Responder Veterans network.


What medication are you currently taking for your PTSD?


None.  I take “dog” NOT DRUGS. I have chosen to live a natural life drug free and without medication so that I can maintain my healthy intellect as it is engaged in the type of work that I am doing and able to do very well with my Coton by my side.


Does your healthcare team consider your Coton de Tulear as a part of your overall therapy?


First, let me say this.  Prior to getting Devon Cream, my Coton, I was suffering greatly with depression, and suicide thoughts.  I was close to hospital admission at least on three occasions.
I knew that drug therapy was not something that I wanted to do to myself or my body…. and that dogs, especially therapy and service dogs have made a difference to military veterans as well as civilians who have told their story to various news agencies and who have used the power of the internet to let other know that they did not have to suffer.


Prior to choosing a correct match for me, I engaged in many dialogues of due diligence with Devon’s breeder to make sure that the puppy would be able to help me with my special needs.  Close and honest discussions with the breeder is vital as the breeder has to pick the right “dog” with special gifts.  The Coton kind and loving temperament must be cherish in the breed and I hope that dogs who do not have 100% good temperaments are not used in breeding programs.  Cotons are therapy dogs and must remain to help human live a better life whether PTSD or other physical or mental health issues.

So, Yes, for sure my support team agrees that my dog is a vital player in the delivery of my health care when used in conjunction with cognitive behavioral therapy and regular visits to psychiatric support services in community.


Are there barriers from people who do not understand your need of a therapy dog?


The answer is yes of course.  Many people do not understand the size of the dog does not
Matter.  It is about the “bark” or “communication”.  It is about the intelligence of the breed; The Coton breed is very well adapted down through history to human companionship love and understanding under all sort of difficult situations and conditions.


They are able to have a sense of relatedness to the type of injury that I carry.   PTSD has a severe cause and effect of my emotional life and they are able to provide balance and a return to
Human stasis, which provides me integration into society.


Why did you pick a Purebred coton?


It was an easy decision.  After following the many paths to other breeds and cross-breeds, the coton showed it’s outstanding qualities in both the historical sense going back hundreds of year and at the same time showing a pure lineage that would allow for extreme stability in temperament and manners when exposed to a modern lifestyle with a cognitively impaired human.


Where do you see the Coton breed and its future role?


I see the breed as facilitating love, joy, peace, happiness and balance…as a tool or mechanism by which we as human beings can experience their joy and passion which will help us to live a more fully engaged life.  The breed is very evolved in their intellect and they offer us a unique opportunity to learn lessons, which we need to learn about how to live.


My dog, my teacher!


I wish to thank Shannon Pennington for sharing his thoughts with us. Also would like to thank Cotonfield Flora, now retired after her second litter, for giving us “Devon” who is a wonderful companion for Shannon.  From the moment Devon was born, I knew he was a very special puppy…and he has been Shannon’s super hero. 


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