Service Dog Obstacle for Veterans
In January, the U.S. Army unleashed a new tangle of red tape governing the presence of service dogs on military bases. Military spokespeople say the new policy, implemented in response to the off-post mauling death of a small child by a soldier’s service dog, strengthens necessary protections. Critics say the regulations make it harder for some soldiers to receive the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) care they need. Citizens and politicians have responded to the new policy by asking the Army to take steps to ensure that soldiers have access to the benefits provided by service dogs.
If you’ve lived with a dog, you probably take for granted the remarkable job canines do as ad hoc psycho-therapists. Many Army veterans who suffer from PTSD have found that the presence of a trained service dog significantly reduces symptoms of anxiety and makes it easier to participate in “normal” life. The U.S. Army also recognizes these benefits.
What’s changed is the ease of accessing those benefits. Before the policy shift, service dogs were allowed on Army posts under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Now, service dogs can only be provided by groups approved by Assistance Dogs International (ADI). Because there are no ADI-approved member organizations in 18 U.S. states, it’s harder to acquire an ADI-approved dog in some locations. The new policy also requires veterans to receive their commander’s approval of a care plan.
An on-line petition launched by the Montana Chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness calls on Army Secretary John McHugh to revise the new policy. It asks the Army to clarify that soldiers do not need to exhaust all other treatment methods before they can qualify for a service dog; to ensure that soldiers with service dogs have access to appropriate living quarters; and to broaden the definition of an accredited service animal provider beyond ADI.
The measure passed the House as part of a veterans bill last fall and is pending in the Senate. To weigh in, contact your U.S. Senator.
Banning Dogs on Bear and Bobcat Hunts
The California State Legislature is expected to pass a bill this summer banning the use of dogs when hunting bear and bobcats. In late May, the state Senate voted 22-15 in favor of Senate Bill 1221, which would prohibit allowing a dog to pursue a bear or bobcat, excepting government representatives “carrying out official duties.” The practice, known as “hounding,” is opposed by more than 80 percent of California voters.
The measure, sponsored by Sen. Ted Lieu (D-Torrance) and Sen. Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), passed largely along party lines, which bodes well for its chances in the state Assembly, where Democrats are in the majority. Hunters and the National Rifle Association have opposed such bans.
In mid-June, the Assembly Waters, Parks and Wildlife Committee will start hearings on SB 1221. If passed, the bill will go to the full Assembly for a final vote and to Gov. Jerry Brown for signature.
The Humane Society of the United States has worked with state legislatures across the country to promote a series of similar measures on the grounds that the use of dogs in hunting violates the fair chase ethic. Currently, half of the 28 U.S. states that still allow bear hunting have banned the use of dogs in bear hunts. Express your support for SB1221 by contacting your Assembly Member.
Preventing Alzheimer’s in Dogs and Humans
Dogs, like people, are living longer these days, and researchers are starting to discover how both species can benefit from keeping their minds and bodies busy.
New studies show that some older dogs may suffer from cognitive dysfunction (CD) in much the same way we humans can lapse into Alzheimer’s disease. For some time, researchers have believed that life-long learning and focused mental activity can help people delay the cognitive changes that lead to Alzheimer’s. It’s not always easy to study this assumed link in humans, but studies using dogs are easier to control.
It turns out that cognitive decline in dogs is surprisingly similar to what is found in humans. In one canine study, a group of dogs was enrolled in continuing canine education and followed an exercise protocol. The control group was fed a special anti-aging diet. The cognitive skills of all the dogs were periodically tested. Carl Cottman, director of Alzheimer’s Disease Research at the University of California-Irvine, called the results “a fantasy come true” because “they were so definitive, proving social interactions, exercise, enrichment and diet really do make a significant difference in dogs. We believe the same must be true for people.”
New Career for Dogs? Assistant D.A.!
One more Service Dog career path has been identified. Bronksey, a chocolate brown two-year-old Labrador-Golden Retriever mix, works as a therapy dog for the District Attorney’s office in Staten Island, New York. He’s believed to be the first “facility” dog ever employed full-time by a city prosecutor.
Bronksey’s job is to sit with crime victims as they make their way through the often re-traumatizing judicial process. “There is something magical about the presence or touch of a loving dog that helps victims forget their pain and fear, if just for a moment, and be able to concentrate on moving forward and healing,” said Daniel M. Donovan Jr., District Attorney for Richmond County. Donovan’s office is making Bronksey available to crime victims during stressful times, including interviews with prosecutors.
Prosecutors say Bronksey soothed the nerves of a 12-year-old abuse victim moments before he testified in front of a grand jury in May. And although Bronksey may be the first full-time D.A. dog, other states are beginning to use therapy dogs in court. Arizona, Hawaii, Idaho, and Indiana have allowed trained dogs to offer children and other vulnerable witnesses support in front of juries.
In New York, however, some legal issues have yet to be resolved. Last year, a therapy dog in New York’s Dutchess County, a Golden Retriever named Rosie, was in full view of the jury when she accompanied a 15-year-old girl who testified that she had been raped and impregnated by her father. The father’s lawyers are appealing his conviction, claiming Rosie’s presence unfairly swayed the jurors. In Staten Island, the D.A.’s office is hoping Bronksey eventually will be allowed to sit in the witness box, unseen by juries, while victims testify. Bronksey was donated by Canine Companions for Independence, a Sonoma County-based nonprofit organization that trains therapy dogs.