A FORMER Army dog handler who was injured in a bomb blast in Afghanistan is using his own recovery to help dogs in a unique way.
Lance Corporal James Wilkinson, 28, was left with extensive injuries to his legs, abdomen and arms when a roadside bomb went off during a foot patrol in Helmand Province in 2011.
He required intensive physiotherapy, including specialist water therapy, during three years of rehabilitation at the Headley Court centre in Surrey and still has mobility problems caused by extensive shrapnel wounds.
But now, more than 18 months after being retired from service, James and his veterinary nurse partner Rebecca Robinson, 31, have set up their own dog rehabilitation business at their home in Sherburn, near Malton, which recreates some of the treatment he received to help dogs recover from injury or surgery .
James said: “Because I have been through it, I have had the personal experience of it, I know how beneficial it can be.
“It is also a vocation I can continue even with my physical limitations.
"I'm excited. It's a change from the military, it’s a new chapter. You never forget the things you have been through. I have seen some horrendous things but you just have to shake your head and try to carry on.”
The former soldier, who was born in Pocklington, was a gamekeeper in North Yorkshire for a number of years. In 2007 he followed his brother Charles and sister Sarah into the armed forces by joining the Royal Army Veterinary Corps as a dog trainer and handler. The three siblings were made Freemen of York in 2012.
During eight years’ service James took part in three tours in Afghanistan before he was injured in an IED blast, on June 16, 2011.
He said: “It was early in the morning and we were on foot patrol. We had to cross two streams up to an area of hard-standing track. I had sent my dog off in front and then all of a sudden there was this almighty explosion.
"I don't remember much else until I woke up in hospital a week later.”
The blast left him requiring surgery to reconstruct his abdomen. His upper legs and circulation were badly damaged and he was in an induced coma for a week.
He has had his hip replaced and been told that he will need a further replacement in future.
James suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder for a long time but said he was looking forward to the future after setting up his business, Operation K9, with Miss Robinson.
The business will offer hydrotherapy for injured dogs, along with swimming for healthy dogs and general canine behaviour training.
He said: "Dogs have always been a way of life for me and with the experience that both of us have it’s an ideal way to set us up for the future.”