American poet Ogden Nash once said, “A door is what a dog is perpetually on the wrong side of.” Mr. Nash’s sentiment typifies how the Department of Veterans Affairs has handled pairing PTSD afflicted veterans with service dogs — going back and forth through the same door without realizing they are not getting anywhere.
In all fairness to Veterans Affairs, the service dog’s role in society is experiencing a seismic shift. Today service dogs are used not just for the vision or hearing impaired, but for many other physical and mental disabilities, including post-traumatic stress disorder.
Recognizing the importance of service dogs, the American Kennel Club is awarding the 2013 AKC Humane Fund Award for Canine Excellence (ACE) in the Service Dog category to a handsome Golden Retriever named Tuesday. He is partnered with Capt. Luis Montalván, author of the New York Times bestselling book, “Until Tuesday: A Wounded Warrior and the Golden Retriever Who Saved Him.” Capt. Montalván is an Army veteran, having served honorably for 17 years. He spent several combat tours in Iraq and was highly decorated, including two Bronze Stars and the Purple Heart.
The ACE honorees will be given their awards this weekend at the AKC/Eukanuba National Championship at Orlando’s Orange County Convention Center.
Hoping to clarify the rules about where service dog teams can go, the United States Department of Justice issued regulations concerning PTSD service dogs. Service dog teams can go anywhere the general public may go, referred to as places of “public accommodation.”
It is somewhat befuddling that the Justice Department acknowledges the service dog’s important role to assist those afflicted with PTSD, but Veterans Affairs, part of the federal government, does not recognize the usefulness of these same service dogs for veterans.
Senator Al Franken was inspired by Capt. Montalván and Tuesday’s story so he introduced the Service Dogs for Veterans Act, which directed the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to create a pilot program to pair service dogs with veterans suffering from PTSD.
Unfortunately, Veterans Affairs issued final regulations in April 2012, eliminating the widespread use of service dogs for veterans suffering from PTSD. Later that same year, the VA suspended the program saying it wanted to do its own study to determine if veterans without associated physical disabilities should have service dogs at taxpayers’ expense.
New York Sen. Charles E Schumer in September requested a status update from the VA about when the pilot program study would continue. Perhaps prompted by Sen. Schumer’s inquiry, Forbes recently reported Veterans Affairs will be re-starting the study, hopefully with the first team pairings taking place in May 2014.
In the great debate between God and Job, Zophar is told to, “…ask the animals, and they will teach you.” (Job 12:7) The American Kennel Club presenting the ACE for different categories of canine excellence demonstrates what dogs have taught humankind — a therapy dog can teach a child to trust, a law enforcement dog teaches an officer to not always trust, a search and rescue dog can teach that superhuman seeing and hearing are invaluable, and a companion dog teaches their human about love and snuggles.
Service dogs teach us about unconditional love, commitment and devotion, notwithstanding the VA’s canine skepticism. Thousands of service dogs work throughout the nation daily, toiling tirelessly to make their human partner’s day a little easier, put a smile on her face, helping him forget some atrocious experience. How much more can one of God’s creatures love another than that?
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Photograph Credit: Luis Carlos Montalván