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Tag: controversy

Questions swirling about VA’s ongoing, slow-moving study of psychiatric service dogs

It has been more than five years since Congress approved a $12 million Veterans Administration study into whether veterans with PTSD can benefit from psychiatric service dogs.

Since then hundreds of veterans with PTSD have been learning first hand of those benefits — but either on their own dime, or with help from nonprofit agencies.

Meanwhile, the study hasn’t gotten too far. It has been suspended twice, and reinstated twice, moving along at a snail’s pace. Or what some might call the VA’s pace.

There are even those, such as Rick Yount, executive director of the nonprofit Warrior Canine Connection, who have questioned whether the study had been set up to fail so that the VA wouldn’t have to pick up expenses for psychiatric service dogs, as it does for service dogs helping veterans with physical disabilities.

The VA’s chief veterinary medical officer, Michael Fallon, called that insinuation “ludicrous.”

And yet, during the past five years, the study has gone anything but smoothly.

ptsd2The study began in late 2011, with three nonprofits contracted to provide up to 200 service dogs for veterans, who would be compared against a control group that did not receive dogs.

The VA cut off two of the three dog vendors following biting incidents involving participants’ children. Only 17 dogs had been placed with veterans when the final contract was terminated in August 2012 amid allegations of lax veterinary care and placement of dogs “with known aggressive behavior,” according to VA records.

Meanwhile, questions have arisen about how the dogs that have been placed are being trained, and whether the tasks they are learning to perform benefit a veteran with PTSD or only reinforce their paranoia, according to the Associated Press.

Specifically, the dogs are being trained to do things like sweeping the perimeter of a room before a veteran enters, or protecting the veteran by “blocking.”

“Isn’t that saying that al-Qaida could be behind the shower curtain? That’s supporting paranoid, pathological thinking,” said Meg Daley Olmert, chief research adviser for Warrior Canine Connection and author of a book on how contact with a dog can create a sense of well-being.

Warrior Canine Connection, a Maryland-based nonprofit that uses veterans to train service dogs for other veterans, believes the dogs should be trained to pick up on cues from PTSD sufferers and then provide the appropriate support, such as learning to wake someone up during a nightmare or detecting when a veteran is anxious, and interacting in a way that helps calm him.

ptsdThe VA’s training protocol “reinforces the cognitive distortions that accompany PTSD,” said Robert Koffman, a retired Navy psychiatrist and chief medical officer for the organization.

Between the questionable training protocol, all the studies delays (only about 40 dogs have been placed with veterans), and the VA’s ongoing contention that the benefits for service dogs for PTSD sufferers has not been proven, some wonder how objective the study is going to be.

Not everyone is willing to wait for the study to run its course.

U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis recently introduced a bill that would take $10 million from the VA’s budget to immediately begin pairing service dogs with post-9/11 veterans for whom traditional PTSD treatments hadn’t worked.

At a hearing before a Congressional committee last week, Dr. Michael Fallon, Chief Veterinary Medical officer Fallon, repeated that “the benefits of service dogs in assisting people with mental health diagnoses have not been established in scientific literature.”

But Rory Diamond, the executive director of K9s for Warriors, told the committee that research already shows veterans with PTSD receive extraordinary benefits from service dogs, including allowing them to elminate their use of medications, handle anxiety better, and reduce suicidal thoughts, nightmares, and night terrors.

“There are thousands of veteran suicides that could have been prevented if they would have had access to a service dog,” Diamond told Congress.

(Photo: Army veteran Joe Aguirre with his service dog Munger; by Pablo Martinez Monsivais / Associated Press)

Organizer of “Touch a Dog” event in Malaysia apologizes amid death threats

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Facing death threats, the organizer of an event aimed at softening the harsh view many Muslims have of dogs has apologized for the furor his “I Want to Touch a Dog” gathering has created.

Syed Azmi Abhalshi, reacting to complaints that the event in Malaysia was insensitive, said he was only trying to educate people — Muslim and non-Muslim.

i-want-to-touch-a-dog-1He said his intention was not to convert Muslims into dog lovers or lead them to violate the precepts of their faith.

Many Malays took offense at photos from the event.

“I organized this event because of Allah, not to deviate the people’s faiths, try to change the Islamic rules of law, poke fun at the ulama or encourage pluralism,” Syed Azmi said.

Since the event last Sunday, he has received threats, and posts on social media platforms have accused him of being “a Christian in disguise,  according to the Straits Times.

Syed Azmi spoke at a press conference Saturday in Kelab Sri Selango — but left abruptly because he feared for his safety, his lawyer said.

“We are very concerned with his well being,” his lawyer, Syahredzan Johan, said.

In the week since the event Syed Azmi, a pharmacist, has received more than 3,000 phone messages on his phone, many of them hateful and a dozen of them threatening physical harm, the New York Times reports.

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The event, aimed at dispelling negative perception of dogs particularly among Muslims, started out as a small get-together for those curious about dogs, but it was attended by about 800 people, about half of them Muslims.

Syed Azmi said he never meant to encourage people, particularly the Muslims, to adopt dogs as pets but was merely trying to offer advice on how to deal with dogs.,

“During the event, the participants were also given detailed explanation on rules and regulations on how to handle dogs,” he said, including instructions in sertu, the Islamic way of purifying.

touchadog

Some Muslim attendees kissed and cuddled with dogs, but organizers said that — despite the event’s name — wasn’t the intention of the program.

“There were those who wanted to learn to touch the dogs and there were those who just wanted to observe,” said co-organizer Norhayati Ismail. “I admit we had no control over the crowd and what they did to the dogs. There could also be those who came late and did not hear our explanation from the Islamic perspectives,” she said.

Although many Muslims in other countries do not view touching dogs as forbidden, conservative Islamic groups in Malaysia view dogs as unclean and followers are required to undergo a ritualistic wash if they come into contact with canines.

(Top photo: Najjua Zulkefli / The Malaysian Insider)

“Dog Wars” is back as “KG Dogfighting”

After a brief hiatus due to copyright infringement concerns, “Dog Wars” — the controversial game app for Android smartphones — is back on the online marketplace, where it’s being offered under the new name of “KG Dogfighting.”

Google’s Android Market website began offering the renamed app Saturday. While originally available for free, it’s now listed at $2.99.

A Google representative said the application was removed last week “based on a trademark infringement complaint” but did not say at the time whether it would be sold again if those issues were resolved, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The game application allows players to raise and train a virtual pit bull to fight other virtual dogs, garnering streed “cred” and “money in your pocket,” according to its developers.

Among those who have filed complaints about the application with Google is the president of Los Angeles police officer’s union.

In the letter sent to Google Chief Executive Officer Larry Page, Los Angeles Police Protective League President Paul M. Weber urged Google “to do the right thing and ban this game permanently.”

“The game teaches users how to breed, train, fight, medicate and kill virtual dogs,” Weber wrote. “The entire concept is repulsive and sickening.”

Animal welfare groups, including the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) have voiced concerns about the game and urged it be removed from the market.

Kage Games, the creators of the Dog Wars application, said in an email to The Times that the game was meant to educate the public on the evils of animal cruelty.

N.J. town to review allowing dogs on beach

Delaware Bay beaches in Lower Township, New Jersey may soon see more restrictive dog rules.

The Lower Township Council is reviewing regulations after an increase in complaints about dogs running loose and poop going unscooped. Dogs are currently allowed on the beaches, but must be leashed, and law requires that owners clean up after them.

Both sides spoke out on the issue at at Monday’s Lower Township council meeting, the Press of Atlantic City reported.

“I pay $8,000 a year in taxes to the township, and I have to go down to Cape May and buy beach badges because there are no dogs on their beaches. I shouldn’t have to sit on the beach and watch a dog take a dump right in front of me,” said Bill Conners, of Shore Road.

Bill Greenfield, a Villas resident and dog owner, took exception to the remark: “I think you’re painting dog owners with a pretty broad brush. A lot of people are responsible. Dog owners pay taxes, too,” Greenfield said.

With dogs off limit along many Atlantic coast beaches, many pet owners head to the bay. A recent Philadelphia Magazine identified the township’s Town Bank area as a good place to bring dogs to the beach.

“I don’t think this is a distinction Lower Township really wants. We’re known as dog beach,” said Conners. “I ask you to please enforce some laws or pass some laws that don’t allow these dogs to run wild on the beach.”

Some council members said the problem could be handled by enforcing existing rules, but others said stricter measures are needed, such as time restrictions.

No action was taken but the situation will be monitored in the coming weeks.

Charmin rolls to victory at Crufts

A Sealyham Terrier from Chester County, Pa., was named best in show at Crufts today.

Margery Good, owner of the four-year-old dog, named Charmin, said she was “very excited and very pleased” to have won, according to a BBC report.

Ms. Good added: “He’s such a special dog. He is my best buddy. He proved himself tonight and made every step just right.”

With the awarding of best in show, the four-day event at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham, tainted by controversy this year, came to a close. The RSPCA and sponsor Pedigree pulled out of partnerships with the dog show, following claims about breeding malpractice in a BBC documentary.

But thousands of spectators attended the four-day event at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham, About 28,000 dogs were estimated to have attended the show, the third highest figure since the show was founded in 1891.

The Kennel Club, which runs Crufts, broadcast the event live on the internet for the first time, and predicted that visitor numbers would match last year’s record crowd of 160,000.

Crufts was hit by controversy after the BBC screened a documentary last year which exposed serious health issues around breeding practices for some breeds of pedigree dogs.

The BBC suspended its coverage of the show pending further investigations and a key sponsor also pulled out.

Charmin, whose win was just the latest of many, is also featured in the video below, which explains a little more about the breed. Sealyhams are not as popular today as the breed once was. In the first half of the 20th Century, Sealyhams were owned by Gary Cooper, Cary Grant, Humphrey Bogart, Richard Burton and Alfred Hitchcock, who used his own Sealyhams in the movies “The Birds” and “Suspicion.”

The Sealyham Terrier was named by its original breeder, Captain Edwardes, after his mansion, Sealyham, near the Sealy river in Pembrokeshire, South Wales