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His dog Tuesday helps war vet stay on course

How a golden retriever named Tuesday is helping an Iraq war veteran with severe post-traumatic stress was the subject of an excellent story in yesterday’s The Wall Street Journal.

Trained to help Luis Carlos Montalvan with his unseen injuries, Tuesday is a psychiatric-service dog — or, as the article referred to it, a “Seeing Eye dog for the mind.”

Tuesday, who is with Montalvan around the clock, has been taught to recognize changes in his breathing, perspiration or scent that can indicate an imminent panic attack.

Montalvan, a retired Army captain who received a Purple Heart for wounds he suffered during an ambush in Iraq, is one of the estimated 300,000 veterans who will ultimately develop PTSD — few of whom will be able to get access to dogs like Tuesday.

“We’re just scratching the surface,” said Gloria Gilbert Stoga, president of Puppies Behind Bars Inc., a New York-based nonprofit that uses prisoners to train animals. Tuesday is one of 11 psychiatric-service dogs it has placed. It hopes to provide 14 more this year.

Tuesday was eight weeks old when he and five siblings were turned over to Puppies Behind Bars. He was sent to New York’s Fishkill Correctional Facility. The pup shared a cell with John Pucci, a convicted killer who was given responsibility for molding Tuesday into a service dog.

Pucci taught Tuesday to respond to 82 commands geared mainly toward helping the physically disabled — turning on lights with his nose, retrieving food from shelves, helping load washing machines. In doing so he won a bet with fellow inmates, who didn’t think Tuesday could be trained. “I got released before I could collect the cigarettes,” said Pucci, 64 years old, who served 29 years.

After that,Tuesday received additional training, based on Montalvan’s needs — such as reminding him to take his pills, and serving as a buffer when Montalvan gets stressed out by large crowds.

Montalvan walks with a cane as a result of his physical injuries, but he says his biggest problems are emotional. “Sometimes my mind goes jumbled,” he said. “Everything just gets kind of cloudy.”

Tuesday also accompanies Montalvan to to Columbia University, where he’s studying journalism and communication.

“Tuesday is just extraordinarily empathetic,” said Montalvan, 36. “In bad moments, he’ll lay his head on my leg, and it’ll be like he’s saying, ‘You’re OK. You’re not alone.'”


Comment from Eighteenpaws
Time July 12, 2009 at 11:53 am

I grew up in Michigan where the ground-breaking work at Rochester’s Leader Dogs for the Blind was prominent and profound. Today, we are still learning how much more dogs can do for humans. The possibilities for not only tending the disabled but also the young and the elderly are ripe for exploration. This is exactly why I am an extreme animal advocate. Incredible story, thank you.

Comment from Mary Kennedy
Time July 17, 2009 at 5:09 pm

I am a canine massage therapist. I have been working with service dogs and recently taught a class to trainers, including Iraq veterans. I will also be teaching prisoners about massage on dogs. This is a really special connection and tool. It benefits both the human and the dog. Any contacts for the Puppies Behind Bars or veterans interested in de-stressing their dogs in a truly beneficial way, please contact me. The time has come for stories like this!!!

Comment from denise lackey
Time July 25, 2009 at 8:33 pm

I am an established dog trainer and would like to find out how to help vets train their own dogs to be service dogs. This would be a n/c service but don’t know how to find vets who need the help. Can you help?