OUR BEST FRIENDS

whs-logo

The Sergei Foundation

shelterpet_logo

The Animal Rescue Site

B-more Dog

aldflogo

Pinups for Pitbulls

philadoptables

TFPF_Logo

Mid Atlantic Pug Rescue

Our Pack, Inc.

Maine Coonhound Rescue

Saving Shelter Pets, Inc.

mabb

LD Logo Color

Tag: service dogs

How many ways can we say helper?

new-yorker-dog-cartoon

Ahhh, words. They can be almost as fun to play with as dogs — and that’s just the beginning of what words and dogs have in common.

Words, like dogs, can be used to befriend, repel or attack, depending on the person behind them. Both can inform us, frustrate us, console, entertain and enthrall us. Words, like dogs, can bite or soothe. Both need to be used responsibly.

And, given we humans created both of them, it is up to us to safeguard them and, once in a while, stand up for them — as in, for example, when they are being abused.

Generally, both words and dogs are at their best when they are unrestrained.

And yet sometimes they need to be restrained.

And yet too much restraint can make them dull and lifeless, sucking out all their natural spirit and joy.

It’s not this week’s presidential debate that’s sending me off on this wordy tangent. It’s the word “facility,” and the growing use of the term “facility dog.”

In a post last week, I lauded the University of Southern California’s decision to add a “facility dog” to the staff of its student health center — but I poked a little fun at the term.

“Facility dog” is a cold, undescriptive and institutional-sounding label, in my view, that just doesn’t go with the goldendoodle’s playful given name, Professor Beauregard Tirebiter.

Beauregard is trained as a therapy dog. Calling him a “facility dog” — no matter the reason behind it — disguises that fact. Words are supposed to clarify, not obfuscate.

I don’t like the idea of labeling a dog based on the building in which he works, as opposed to the noble work he is doing.

But, most of all, I just don’t like the word “facility.”

USC didn’t come up with the term “facility dog;” it is being used increasingly to describe a dog — generally a therapy dog — that is based in a particular hospital, nursing home, school, prison, mental institution or other … well, facility.

emotionalIn journalism school, I was taught not to use the word “facility,” because its meaning is so vague and the mere sight of it tends to put people to sleep.

But it’s also, in its vagueness, a safe word — the kind bureaucracies like, not just for their political correctness, but because it lets them avoid plain talk, clarity and specificity.

“Facility dog is an official certification as designated by Canine Angels Service Teams,” reads a comment sent into ohmidog! from someone at USC’s health center, in response to the post.

“While his credential is ‘Facility Dog,’ the University of Southern California has given him the title ‘Wellness Dog’ as his intended purpose is to enhance the wellness of students on campus.

“He does not work in a therapy/counseling setting, but rather as a staff member in the Office for Wellness and Health Promotion. As such, he is not a pet and does not violate the USC policy referenced in the article.”

(I pointed out in my post that USC has a no-pets policy, only to suggest that maybe it’s time — given all dogs do for us, given “wellness” should be achieved campus-wide as opposed to just at the Student Health Center, given all dogs, in a way, are “wellness dogs” — to give those antiquated rules another look.)

I almost hate to say it, but I’m not too keen on “wellness dog,” either. It, too, is vague and touchy-feely and fails to describe the work Beau is doing.

But it’s a little better than “facility dog.”

“Facility dog” makes it sound like Beau is manning the boilers. “Wellness dog” makes it sound like he’s dispensing medication, taking blood pressure and giving nutritional advice.

Google the term “wellness dog” now and you get links mostly to the dog food that uses that name, or pet insurance companies only to happy to provide your dog a “wellness plan.”

But “wellness dog” will surely join the ranks of terms used to describe dogs that are trained to help us humans cope.

There are already enough of those terms to thoroughly confuse the public —
service dogs, assistance dogs, therapy dogs, emotional support dogs, comfort dogs, bomb-sniffing dogs and seizure dogs — and my personal favorite “companion animal.”

“Companion animal” is what we used to call a pet. As in:

“Hi, I’m John and this is my dog, Bowser. Do you mind if we use the facilities?”

“You are welcome here, just make sure your companion animal uses the fecal matter containment system.”

“You mean a poop bag?”

“We try not to use that term.”

The surplus of terminology for dogs who help us is first and foremost a reflection of just how incredibly much dogs help us — with disabilities, with illnesses that range from diabetes to epilepsy to PTSD, and with all the other obstacles, fears and anxieties that get in our way.

Those distinctions become important because different dogs, depending on their label, have different rights.

service-dog1Under the legal definition, service dogs are those trained to perform tasks for an individual with a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or mental disability.

A service animal is entitled to accompany that person anywhere members of the public are allowed.

Emotional support dogs, comfort dogs and therapy dogs are not service animals under Title II and Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“Assistance dog” is a catch all term to describe them all, and is not a legal category.

In an ideal world, we wouldn’t need all those distinctions — and any dog that is helping a person cope would be allowed to accompany that human to a restaurant, workplace, etc.

But, in an ideal world, the word “facility” wouldn’t exist, either.

Canine Angels, the outfit that provided Beauregard to the university, says on its website that it trains and provides service dogs, “social dogs” and “facility dogs.”

It defines facility dogs as those that “are placed with teachers and health care/rehabilitation professionals whose clients/students can benefit from the therapeutic qualities that a well-trained dog can offer. These dogs can provide emotional and unconditional support and can be used by their handlers to motivate and reward clients/students. Facility Dogs live with their handlers and are only allowed public access to the specific facility at which their handler is employed.”

Sometimes, those handlers are called … wait for it … facilitators.

I doubt that there is any significant difference between what a therapy dog is trained to do and what a facility dog is trained to do. Similarly, I’d go out on a limb and say a “wellness dog” and a therapy dog likely receive identical training.

Therapy dog is a perfectly fine term, and there’s no need to put a mask on it.

When a university decides it wants to have a writer on campus, allowing him or her to pursue their mission while their brilliance rubs off on the student body, they call him or her “writer-in-residence,” not “facility writer.”

Dogs deserve at least that much respect.

Paraplegic employee quits after Baltimore hospital says he can’t bring his dog to work

Before the well-known Baltimore institute hired him as an employee, Marshall Garber had been a patient at, supporter of and spokesman for Kennedy Krieger’s International Center for Spinal Cord Injury.

Now he has left them after being told he can’t bring his dog to work.

Garber, who has been dependent on a wheelchair since being paralyzed by a spinal cord injury six years ago, said he needed the dog to help him get around.

“If you’ve never sat in a wheelchair and pushed a wheelchair around you are going to realize how difficult that is,” Garber told WBAL.

“If I didn’t go anywhere else. Just my office, I’m rolling 200 yards from car to elevator to ground to desk to the fourth floor and do that five times a week twice a day that’s going to accumulate quite a bit,” Garber said.

In a statement, the institute, affiliated with Johns Hopkins Hospital, said the dog was not necessary for Garber to perform his job duties.

Garber was paralyzed from the waist down after surgery to remove a fibrous mass that developed on his spinal cord. He was a teenager when his family started making regular trips from Ohio to Baltimore so he could receive restorative therapies.

As a patient, Garber appeared in several videos produced by the institute, such as the one above.

garberHe wrote an account about how the insitute had changed his life for a hospital publication called, “Potential.”

And he was also featured in a report on WBAL last year, during which he mentioned his plans to participate in an upcoming marathon, and his hopes of taking part in the Paralympics.

His athletic conditioning may have played a role in the institute’s judgment that he didn’t need a dog to pull him around the workplace.

So too might have a lack of clarity on whether his dog, Scooby, was a certified service dog.

Garber said he got Scooby last year and trained him to pull his wheelchair.
Scooby proved so helpful that Garber started bringing him to work.

“They basically said that Scooby is a pet and he is not essential to my job, and I am not going to be able to use him,” Garber said.

Several months after Garber started using his dog at work, he was told the dog would no longer be allowed. Since then, he has quit the job and left the state.

Kennedy Krieger said in a statement, “We determined that his pet, which may or may not have been a service animal, was not a necessary accommodation for him to complete his job-related responsibilities. However, we did over the course of his employment make reasonable accommodations, at his request, to help him perform his work duties more comfortably.”

(Photo: Garber during an adaptive sports ski trip in Colorado, Kennedy Krieger Institute)

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)

Who wouldn’t be distracted by Pluto?

Testing how calm he could remain amid the crowds and distractions was exactly the reason Ace, a guide dog in training, was taken to Disneyland.

But throwing Pluto into the mix seems almost unfair.

Ace, who began his formal training with Guide Dogs of America at the end of January, was with his caretaker, Sandy Steinblums, when they bumped into Pluto.

While he might not have followed his training to the letter, Ace did calm down after some initial excitement and, once directed to stay a few times, he did a pretty good job, given Pluto was egging him on.

Steinblums said that, though it’s not in the video, Ace remained in the stay position for several minutes.

A video of the meeting was posted on Disney Dorks, a Disney fan page on Facebook, and it has been shared more than 15 million times in three days.

Ace will undergo six to nine months of training before he graduates and is matched with a human.

Great Dane helps girl find her balance

Fifth grader Bella Burton has gained both confidence and mobility since a service dog came into her life last year — a dog that outweighs her three to one.

George, a Great Dane who tips the scales at 131, was paired with Bella through the Service Dog Project, an Ipswich, Mass.-based non-profit organization that trains and matches Great Danes with people who have mobility and balance limitations.

Bella, who turned 11 last week, has a rare genetic disorder called Morquio Syndrome, or Mucopolysaccharidoses (MPS) IV.

“She used to pretty much be confined to a wheelchair or have to use crutches to get around, but with George, she’s become so much stronger and active,” said Bella’s mom, Rachel.

Since George loped into the picture late last year Bella has gone from dreading school to enjoying it.

“I couldn’t play on the playground, and I had to use crutches when I was at home,” Bella said. “Now, I’m running outside and I love to go to school.”

Bella and George were featured on ABC News last week.

Next month, George will be honored by the American Kennel Club (AKC) as one of five dogs to receive the Award for Canine Excellence, at the AKC’s national championships in Orlando, Fla.

The Burtons spent about a year trying to find Bella the right balance support dog. Once Bella met George, the two bonded almost immediately.

Last October George started staying with the Burtons on weekends. By January, George was permanently placed with the Burtons, who have two other non-service dogs.

Bella and family plan to donate the $1,000 cash prize from the AKC to the Service Dog Project.

“Between the training and adoption fees, it probably costs around $20,000,” Rachel said. “They didn’t want a dime when they placed George with us.”

Dying vet reunited with his lost dog

A homeless veteran whose dog wandered off when he fell asleep on a southern California beach earlier this month has been reunited with his beloved Olivia.

Harry Brown, 53, diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer and given a year to live, was visiting Long Beach, California to say goodbye to friends family when Olivia, the young brown and white pit bull he describes as his service dog in training, disappeared.

He searched for her for a week, visiting animal shelters and placing a lost dog ad on Craigslist:

“Her name is Olivia and she is the life to me,” the ad read. “…Please help even if you see her just running by. She had a pink service vest, new leash with pink collar … I would offer reward but I am a disabled veteran, have nothing but that little girl. So please, if you can help unite us, I would be forever in your debt.”

olivia“We spent as long as we could trying to find her,” Brown told NBC 4. With an arranged ride for the next leg of his trip, to Phoenix, Brown had to move on.

It was there he got a response to his Craigslist ad: “Your girl is in L.A. County, go get her,” it said.

Olivia had been found wandering the streets of Long Beach, and taken to an animal shelter.

An animal rescue group called Captain Care raised money to pay for Brown’s ticket back to Long Beach and cover the fees required to secure her release.

Brown, who calls Eugene, Oregon home, picked Olivia up Wednesday.

“She’s my life,” admitted Brown, who says he suffers from PTSD and has had problems with alcohol.

Brown has his own Facebook page, and has used it to thank all those who helped him, especially Captain Care.

Donors provided him with a hotel room, new toys, treats and food for Olivia, and a hammock they can share while on the road, according to The Examiner.

Extra donations will be used to help spay and feed Olivia, and help pay for Brown’s continuing cross-country journey to say goodbye to family and friends.

Donations for Brown and Olivia can be made to Captain Care Intervention at mycaptaincare.org.

(Photo: Courtesy of Harry Brown)

Service dogs help make a special prom night

promnight

Prom night wasn’t on the agenda for seniors Delaney Johnson and Nick Ackerman.

The two teens, both with disabilities, go to different high schools and hadn’t even met until their service dogs — in a way — brought them together.

Nick, who has a service dog named Troy, was interviewing Delaney, who has a service dog named Griffin, for a school video project on service dogs.

Making small talk, she asked him, “Are you all geared for prom?” When he told her he had no plans to go to his, she volunteered to go with him. He accepted.

With their service dogs along, they attended his school’s prom, then hers.

A Lansing State Journal columnist and photographer went along — and you can find their story and video here.

Delaney, 17, goes to Haslett High School, where, before she got her 2-year-old Dutch shepherd Griffin, she would faint or pass out up to 20 times a day due to narcolepsy.

Between medication and help from Griffin, that condition — and a second neurological condition called cataplexy — have been brought under control.

Her dog acts to distract her if she’s experiencing anxiety and, in case of an attack, he’s trained to stay with her, lying on top of her if she becomes incapacitated so that she feels protected.

“Since I got Griffin, I’ve not had any major cataplexy attacks at all,” said Johnson, a singer and songwriter who plans to take Griffin with her this fall to attend Grand Valley State University. “…He’s my own personal little bodyguard.”

prom3Nick attends Forest Hills Central High School in Grand Rapids, where he’s a champion debater. His service dog Troy helps Nick, who was born without arms, do everything from carrying things to zipping up his coat.

Nick, who plans to attend Eastern Michigan University in the fall, met Delaney two weeks ago, when he interviewed her for a class project on service dogs and the subject of proms came up.

On May 2, they went to his prom. Last Saturday, they went to hers.

The columnist and photographer accompanied the foursome — from home, where they posed for family photos, to a sushi dinner and then to the prom itself.

“I was going to stay home and eat ice cream and watch movies,” Delaney said later. “I’m just so glad I went…It was an amazing time.”

(Photos by Matthew Dae Smith / Lansing State Journal)