ADVERTISEMENTS

dibanner

books on dogs

Give The Bark -- The Ultimate Dog Magazine

Pets Supplies and Gifts for Pet Lovers


BarkBox.com

Heartspeak message cards

Celebrate Mother's Day with $10 off! 130x600

Healthy Dog Treats

Fine Leather Dog Collars For All Breeds

Tag: veterans

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)

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)

A hard hitting ad from guide dog foundation

This public service ad for a Dutch service dog foundation certainly isn’t the typical “awwww”-invoking stuff you see from do-gooders trying to raise some money.

It’s pretty chilling, as is its tagline: “We not only help people who cannot see, but also those who have seen too much”

The ad was made for the Royal Dutch Guide Dog Foundation (KNGF Geleidehonden), which in addition to supplying guide dogs for the blind, also trains assistance dogs for veterans coping with PTSD and other war-induced traumas.

Established in 1935, the organization has trained over 5,000 dogs for guide dog users in various parts of the Netherlands.

The ad won the the Gouden Loeki (a Dutch commercial award) in 2014.

When a cemetery becomes a dog park

“We are treating him pretty darn well, except for the poop.”

— Ventura Parks and Recreation Commissioner Sharon Troll

Pvt. James Sumner, an 1860s Army hero who was awarded the Medal of Honor, is buried beneath what is now a popular dog park in Ventura, California — and there’s an effort underway to have him scooped up and moved to a “more respectful” resting place.

Sumner, who was awarded the nation’s highest military honor by Ulysses S. Grant for gallant actions after a band of Apaches kidnapped a settler’s child, died in 1912. He’s one of about 3,000 people buried in what was formerly St. Mary’s Cemetery.

“Talk to any veteran, he will tell you it is a terrible thing. It’s disrespectful,” said retired Marine Sgt. Craig “Gunny” Donor, who served two tours in Vietnam and is determined to get  the soldier’s remains moved. “I’m trying to get him moved to Bakersfield National Cemetery. He needs to be moved to a place of respect. Cemeteries are solemn places.”

Others say graveyards don’t necessarily need to be grave places — that adding a little life to the cemetery hurts no one, and some go so far as to say that maybe it’s appreciated by the departed.

Though thousands are buried there, only a few dozen markers remain at the 7-acre Cemetery Memorial Park. 

Ventura city leaders have so far balked at moving Sumner, saying the park is well maintained and gravesites aren’t being damaged. “We are treating him pretty darn well, except for the poop,” Parks and Recreation Commissioner Sharon Troll told the Ventura County Star.

The commission voted July 21 to postpone for two months Donor’s request to unearth Sumner.

Other cities look a little less kindly on allowing dogs in cemeteries. Concord, New Hampshire, recently passed an ordinance that bans them.

Donor, who lives in Fontana and is a state captain for the Patriot Guard Riders, a motorcycle club that honors fallen veterans, expects the fight to wind up in court. “He has no family, no one else to stand up for him, except for his brothers and sister in arms,” Donor said.

Mcdonald’s bars service dog of influential vet

vetdogA disabled veteran is suing McDonald’s for $10 million, claiming he was harassed, beaten, and told that he couldn’t take his service dog inside.

Former Army captain Luis Carlos Montalvan, who inspired Sen. Al Franken’s first legislative victory — a service dog program for disabled veterans — claims in the lawsuit that he was confronted by restaurant workers on two separate visits, and beaten with garbage can lids when he returned with a camera.

Franken, in an e-mail message to Montalvan last week, called it an “awful, bizarre story,” according to the Star-Tribune.

A spokeswoman for McDonald’s USA said the matter is under investigation.

Montalvan, 36, of Brooklyn, filed the lawsuit in October, a week after Congress approved Franken’s provision establishing a pilot program to pair 200 wounded veterans with service dogs from nonprofit agencies.

Franken said Montalvan and his service dog, a golden retriever named Tuesday — both of whom he had met at a presidential inaugural ball — inspired his proposal.

“Captain Montalvan made great sacrifices fighting for our country in Iraq,” Franken said. “I’m not entirely familiar with the facts of this case, but what I do know underscores both the need to help our returning veterans and to raise awareness and increase access for service dogs.”

Montalvan suffered spinal cord damage and traumatic brain injuries during two tours of duty in Iraq that also left him with post-traumatic stress disorder. Tuesday, his service dog, helps him with balance, mobility and emotional support.

Montalvan’s lawsuit recounts a series of events that began last December, several weeks after he completed service dog training. Visiting a McDonald’s in Brooklyn, Montalvan was told by employees that pets were not allowed. He complained and a supervisor later apologized in writing and assured Montalvan that his dog was welcome.

Montalvan’s dog was barred from the restaurant again in January. Two days later, when Montalvan returned with a camera, the restaurant had been closed due to  health code violations, but two McDonald’s workers confronted him and beat him with plastic garbage can lids, he says.

Franken’s service dogs for vets act passes

Sen. Al Franken’s first piece of legislation — aimed at increasing the supply of service dogs for veterans — has been passed and is headed to the White House for approval.

Under the legislation, the Veterans Administration would develop partnerships with organizations that provide disabled veterans with service dogs. Franken said the measure will cost about $5 million and is designed not to interfere with non-profit organizations providing service dogs.

“The government is going to pay for essentially every other dog. What I didn’t want to happen was to dry up the funding for the organizations like Hearing and Service Dogs in Minneapolis and all of these non-profits who have been providing dogs to some vets.”

Franken said about 200 veterans will get dogs as a result of the legislation. The legislation was passed yesterday as apart of the Defense Authorization bill, according to Minnesota Public Radio.

Franken introduced the legislation after meeting Luis Carlos Montalvan, a veteran who said his service dog improved his quality of life.

Psychiatric service dogs: More than “comfort”

2r1There are those who say psychiatric service dogs aren’t “real” service dogs — that, unlike guide dogs for the blind, they merely make their owners feel good and provide nothing more than comfort.

Iraq war veteran Jennifer Pacanowski sees it differently — especially after,  unaware she was going 85 miles an hour on the freeway, a wet nose nudged her elbow, bringing her back to reality.

The wet nose belonged to Boo, a 110-pound Bull Mastiff who warns her when her anxiety levels are rising. Pacanowski slowed down, and lived to tell the story, which is recounted in an article on psychiatric service dogs in U.S. News & World Report.

The article reveals that the U.S. Department of Defense is starting a 12-month study to find out exactly how the dogs help — by comparing soldiers with PTSD who have dogs with a similar group of soldiers without a dog. Researchers will measure changes in symptoms and medication use.

“We want to provide evidence for something we know observationally and help create a movement towards the use of psychiatric service dogs,” said lead investigator Craig T. Love, senior study director at Westat, a research corporation in Rockville, Md. “It’s time to make a change.”

Pacanowski is one of dozens of veterans and others who already know what the study seeks to substantiate.  Boo, only a year old, has been helping her deal with her post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) — a result of her experiences as a medic in the war — since December.

“Sometimes I forget where I am and will go back to the war in Iraq. He brings me back to reality and makes me realize that I can’t run people off the road. It’s a frequent thing with PTSD to have road rage,” said Pacanowski, who lives in northeastern Pennsylvania.

Boo is one of a team of “psychiatric service dogs” being used to help people with various mental health issues, including bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, anxiety disorders and, perhaps most notably, PTSD.

“If a dog observes when a person with PTSD is escalating, the dog will be able to signal that they are escalating and, given it’s so early in process, the person can manage and even prevent the escalation,” explained Joan Gibbon Esnayra, president and founder of the Psychiatric Dog Service Association.

The dogs have been in service for about 12 years and while patients and professionals alike know they work wonders, there has been no real empirical evidence of their value — and, as a result, they often receive neither the respect or funding opportunities of guide dogs.

“A recent survey showed that 82 percent of patients with PTSD who were assigned a dog had a decrease in symptoms, and 40 percent had a decrease in the medications they had to take,” added Dr. Melissa Kaime, director of the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program (CDMRP), who spoke at a telebriefing last month. “I fully expect this will be positive trial.”

You can learn more about psychiatric service dogs at the Psychiatric Service Dog Society website.