1 September 2023

Retired army veteran Chris Hodder and assistance dog Bella step into the limelight together

| Travis Radford
Chris Hodder and Bella.

Retired army veteran Chris Hodder auditioned for The Voice Australia with his assistance dog Bella by his side. Screenshot: The Voice Australia on Seven Network.

CONTENT WARNING: This article contains references to post-traumatic stress disorder and suicide.

Army veteran and Canberra resident Chris Hodder rarely goes anywhere – including the blind auditions of The Voice Australia singing competition – without his assistance dog Bella.

Each morning, she encourages Chris to get out of bed and start his daily routine, and each night she stays by his side and gently noses him awake if he has nightmares.

Chris spent three decades of his life in the Australian Defence Force and, like many veterans, has post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from his service.

“PTSD can just destroy people’s lives,” Chris says.

“Unfortunately, we lose people because of it and I went through a phase, to be honest, when I came back from Afghanistan, where I thought maybe walking in front of a bus was a better option than trying to push through it … and you turn to alcohol. You think it helps, but it makes it worse. I went through that phase.”

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Chris was among the first Australians to set foot in Afghanistan the month after the September 11 terrorist attacks. He expected to spend four months in the country. Instead, he was deployed for eight months straight.

“[I was] living in a big hangar full of dirt and dust and rats and having no normal contact with people,” he remembers.

“It’s 24/7. Things are happening all the time. Your mind is always thinking about the next thing that’s going to happen. How am I going to deal with it? What have I got to do?”

Part of Chris’s role during his deployment was repatriating deceased Australians to their families. His mind would start spinning with hypotheticals.

Bella the assistance dog.

When Bella is wearing her jacket she’s working, but when it comes off, she loves to do everything a regular dog does. Photo: Travis Radford.

After returning to Australia in 2002, Chris began doing a bit of karaoke at a local pub and unwittingly uncovered a passion for singing country music, which helped him cope with his PTSD.

Then, about two years ago, a new member was added to Chris’s band when veteran and first responder not-for-profit Integra Service Dogs Australia introduced assistance dog Bella into his life.

“She fills the void when I’m not singing,” Chris says.

“People say she’s just a dog. She’s not. She’s got a job to do and that’s what a lot of people don’t realise. She is doing her job when she’s with me in this jacket.”

Bella shadows Chris throughout the day, including while he sings every afternoon. So when Chris was accepted into The Voice Australia blind auditions, Bella was along for the ride.

While the judges complimented Chris’s voice, he didn’t progress to the next round. But Chris says his audition was about more than just the competition.

“It was my way of getting out two things: the plight of the veterans and how such a small thing like Bella can change your life for the better,” he explains.

“Bella gets treated better than me, to be honest, but rightly so, because not only has she changed me and made me feel better, she’s brought the family together.”

Chris’s audition is in episode three of season 12 of The Voice Australia. The full episode can be viewed on 7plus.

If this story has raised any concerns for you, you can contact:

  • Open Arms – Veterans and Families Counselling on 1800 011 046 or openarms.gov.au
  • The ADF Chaplain via the Defence switchboard on 1300 333 362
  • The ADF All-Hours Support line on 1800 628 036
  • Defence Family Helpline on 1800 624 608.

Original Article published by Travis Radford on Riotact.

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