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.
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.
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)
Posted by John Woestendiek April 22nd, 2016 under Muttsblog, videos.
Tags: animals, blocking, congress, controversy, delays, dogs, hearing, k9s for warriors, pets, post traumatic stress disorder, protocol, psychiatric service dogs, ptsd, questions, service dogs, study, sweeping, therapy, training, trauma, va, veterans, veterans administration, warrior canine connection
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.”
Posted by John Woestendiek November 9th, 2015 under Muttsblog, videos.
Tags: animals, balance, balance support dog, bella burton, danes, disabilities, disorders, dog, dogs, genetic, george, great dane, great danes, Morquio Syndrome, mps, ms, Mucopolysaccharidoses, pets, service, service dog project, service dogs, support, therapy
San Diego’s most famous therapy dog has lost his certification — and all because of his biker outfit.
Chopper the Biker Dog was certified by Pet Partners, and over the past five years he has visited thousands of people in hospitals, schools and senior living centers up and down the West Coast.
But suddenly, after all that time, his biker duds have been ruled “innapropriate,” ABC 10 News reported.
Pet Partners has informed his owner, Mark Shaffer, that the certification was suspended because it did not approve of Chopper’s biker outfit. Chopper wears a leather vest and a bandana and, when he’s on his motorcycle, a helmet and some pretty cool goggles.
Shaffer got the news after he and Chopper returned from an 11-day trip to Oregon, stopping at VA hospitals and police departments every day along the trip.
In a statement, Pet Partners explained that “the use of costumes and clothing in an animal-assisted therapy environment raises a number of concerns for the animal, the handler and the clients or patients being seen … Pet Partners harbors no ill will towards motorcycle enthusiasts. Holiday costumes, tutus or clothing other than a scarf are also not allowed.”
“We wish Mark and Chopper all the best and hope that they will continue to bring smiles to the people they meet. Mark did receive written warning to correct the behavior before the suspension to follow the appropriate protocol. He is free to dress Chopper as he pleases, just not while volunteering at facilities as a therapy animal team.”
Shaffer said that — rather than taking Chopper out of his biker outfit — he will seek certification from another therapy dog organization. He’s getting a lot of support for his decision on his Facebook page.
“They claim they don’t allow dogs in costumes,” said Shaffer. “This is not a costume,” “This is his persona. This is what he is.”
(Photo: From Chopper’s Facebook page)
Posted by John Woestendiek June 9th, 2015 under Muttsblog, videos.
Tags: animals, biker, boston terrier, certification, chopper, chopper the biker dog, costume, dog, dogs, outfit, pet partners, pets, therapy, therapy dogs
A non-profit organization has launched a campaign to sell dog collars and leashes to raise money to place therapy dogs in homes and shelters serving sex trafficking victims.
Eye Heart World, an organization that creates products to raise funds and awareness for social causes, is launching a campaign called “Walk the Cause” this week.
The sale of every leash and collar set will go toward purchasing therapy dogs to help victims of human trafficking.
The dogs will be placed in aftercare homes for victims and used in court during the interview process.
“These wonderful pups provide a sense of security, comfort, and something these girls will desperately need in this time of restoration,” the organization said in a press release.
It’s similar to a project the organization started in January of 2010 — called “Carry the Cause” — which sold handbags. All American made, each handbag bears an orange rose, the color representing human trafficking awareness.
Under the “Walk the Cause” project, $100 from the sale of every leather leash and collar set goes toward placing therapy dogs in homes and facilities to help victims of human trafficking.
The first dogs will likely placed at facilities in Atlanta and Denver, according to Eye Heart World founder Season Russo. The dogs will be purchased from Smeraglia, a dog breeding company, and will be trained by Teddy Bear Goldendoodles.
Posted by John Woestendiek February 4th, 2015 under Muttsblog, videos.
Tags: aftercare, animals, collars, counseling, court, dogs, eye heart world, goldendoodles, homes, human trafficking, leashes, leather, pets, sale, sex, sex trade, sex trafficking, shelters, smeraglia, support, teddy bear goldendoodles, therapy, therapy dogs, trafficking, walk the cause
Charles Sasser has Alzheimer’s, and over the past year he has all but stopped talking, according to his daughter.
The Albuquerque man will make some sounds when he’s with his two dogs, but he rarely utters more than a word or phrase.
So when he started talking — in full sentences — to his daughter’s dog, she made a video.
Abeyta, who writes often about her family’s struggles with Alzheimer’s on her blog, posted the video last week on YouTube — showing the moment Sasser, a Korean war veteran, began to speak to her dog, Roscoe.
Within a few days, it was nearing a million views, and generating comments — actual kind, caring, non-stupid and rational comments, many from strangers sharing their own stories.
Abeyta says her father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, a degenerative disease affecting memory, about four or five years ago. In the past year, he started to lose his ability to speak in sentences.
“I’m touched by the response to the video … They talked about how having a pet or connecting with music really gave them back a loved one with Alzheimer’s,” Abeyta told ABC News.
On her own blog, she wrote, “I had no idea the video would touch so many people or be shared so many times. The comments and emails – for the most part – have been a wonderfully moving procession of individuals sharing their own journey through Alzheimer’s or dementia. It is a cruel disease, and the kind words of others who have faced similar experiences has left me feeling not quite so alone in it all.”
Posted by John Woestendiek April 30th, 2014 under Muttsblog, videos.
Tags: albuquerque, alzheimers, animals, charles sasser, disability, disease, dog, dogs, elderly, forming, lisa abeyta, memory, pets, sentences, speaking, talking, therapy, video
From an Irish wolfhound named Finn to a Rottweiler named Maggie Mae, 29 dogs of various breeds are providing a different kind of security for travelers at Los Angeles International Airport.
The dogs have been comforting frazzled travelers for a year now, through a program called PUP, or Pets Unstressing Passengers.
Finn started last November, the day after a gunman opened fire at Terminal 3 and left a Transportation Security Administration officer dead, according to the Los Angeles Times
“I think after the shooting, Finn attracted attention because he represented something comforting,” owner Brian Valente said in an airport statement. “As passengers asked questions about Finn and started to pet him, I could see their bodies relax and their demeanors change.”
The one-year anniversary of the program was marked yesterday at a meeting of the L.A. Board of Airport Commissioners.
The dogs all wear bright red vests, and mingle with passengers in post-security-screening areas. The program is aimed at reducing the anxiety of travelers by letting them pet and play with the dogs.
The dogs are registered with Therapy Dogs, a national organization that supports pets that visit places such as hospitals, nursing homes and other special needs centers.
To see more of the dogs, click here.
(Photos: Los Angeles World Airports)
Posted by John Woestendiek April 22nd, 2014 under Muttsblog.
Tags: air travel, airport, calming, comfort, comfort dogs, comforting, dogs, emotional, finn, los angeles, los angeles international airport, maggie mae, nerves, pet, pets unstressing passengers, petting, program, pup, security, soothing, therapy, therapy dogs, travel, travelers
That 22-pound cat whose aggressive behavior forced an entire Oregon family (including the dog) to take refuge in a locked bedroom is going to get some therapy, according to its owner.
Lee Palmer, of Portland, says the 4-year-old part-Himalayan cat, named Lux, is scheduled to see a veterinarian and to get a house call from a pet psychologist, according to the Associated Press.
Palmer called 911 Sunday to report that the cat had “gone over the edge,” scratching his infant son and chasing the family into a bedroom.
“We’re trapped in our bedroom and he won’t let us out of the door,” Palmer told the emergency dispatcher.
“He’s trying to attack us. He’s very, very, very, very hostile. He’s at our door. He’s charging us.”
You can download an MP3 of the 911 call here.
Palmer says Lux attacked his 7-month-old son, inflicting several scratches, after the baby pulled its tail. He said he kicked the cat in the rear to make it stop, which only led the cat to get angrier.
Officers arrived at the home around 8 p.m., according to the Portland Oregonian, and used a catchpole to snare the cat, who had darted into the kitchen and jumped atop a refrigerator.
Police issued a press release about the incident Monday and by Wednesday it had gained international attention.
Palmer says the family has received proposals from people wanting to adopt Lux, but the family is not taking them up on it
While Palmer told officers the cat has a history of violent behavior, the family plans to keep him, and keep a close eye on him, he said.
“We’re not getting rid of him right now. He’s been part of our family for a long time.”
Posted by John Woestendiek March 13th, 2014 under Muttsblog.
Tags: 22 pounds, aggressive, angry, animal control, animals, baby, cat, cats, dog, dogs, family, held, himalayan, hostage, lux, oregon, pets, police, portland, psychologist, scratched, therapy, veterinarian, violent