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Update on the Service Dog Veteran’s Act: Bill Seeks to Provide Trained Assistance Dogs to Wounded Veterans

August 3rd, 2009 8 comments

The Service Dog Veteran’s Act would fund a pilot program to provide assistance dogs to veterans with physical and mental disabilities.

The Service Dog Veteran’s Act, a bill co-sponsored by Senators Al Franken and Johnny Isakson, easily passed as as part of the FY2010 Defense Authorization Bill.  The measure will establish a pilot program of at least 200 dogs and veterans to assess the therapeutic value of the dogs for veterans with physical and mental injuries, including post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries.  Half the service dogs will be for veterans with mental health disabilities and the other half will help those with physical disabilities.

Service Dog Veteran's Act Will Fund the Training of Service Dogs for Wounded Veterans

Service Dog Veteran's Act Will Fund the Training of Service Dogs for Wounded Veterans

The bill is expected to pass the House and be signed into law.  The Veterans’ Administration will pay for the first 50 dogs in the program, and will thereafter provide funds to match contributions made to non-profit service dog organizations.

The program will last for three years at a cost of $5 million.  During that time, researchers will study its effectiveness.  Senator Franken has stated that there is evidence to suggest service dogs would reduce the suicide rate among veterans, reduce hospitalizations and overall help lower the cost of their health care.

“Everything I’ve had problems with, sleeping, walking – she’s been there,” said injured soldier Shane Vincent of his miniature Yorkie named Bella.  Vincent believes that having specially trained service dogs will make even more of a difference in the lives of wounded veterans.

Johnny Isakson is a U.S. Senator from Georgia.  He can be contacted at http://isakson.senate.gov/contact.cfm or by telephone at (202) 224-3643.  Al Franken is a U.S. Senator from Minnesota who can be contacted at info@franken.senate.gov or by telephone at (202) 224-5641.

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Senator Al Franken Proposes Legislation that would Provide Service Dogs for Wounded Veterans

July 22nd, 2009 No comments

Senator Franken’s First Proposed Piece of Legislation Would Pair Service Dogs with Veterans

Inspired by a meeting with a wounded Iraq war veteran and his Golden Retriever service dog, Senator Franken wants to introduce legislation that would help train service dogs for use by wounded veterans.  This would be the newly-minted senator’s first piece of legislation.

What Service Dogs could do for Wounded Veterans

Golden Retrievers Make Great Service Dogs

Golden Retrievers Make Great Service Dogs

Senator Franken met Luis Carlos Montalvan and his service dog Tuesday at an inaugural event in Washington.  As Sen. Franken explains in a Minnesota Star-Tribune op-ed, Capt. Montalvan was an intelligence officer who was wounded in Anbar Province in an assassination attempt.  He now walks with a cane and suffers from severe post-traumatic stress disorder.  Capt. Montalvan told Franken he could not have attended the inauguration without his service dog Tuesday’s assistance.

After I met Luis, I did some research.  Service dogs like Tuesday can be of immense benefit to vets suffering from physical and emotional wounds.  Yes, they provide companionship.  But they can also detect changes in a person’s breathing, perspiration or scent to anticipate and ward off an impending panic attack with some well-timed nuzzling.  They are trained to let their masters know when it’s time to take their medication and to wake them from terrifying nightmares.

Service dogs raise their masters’ sense of well-being.  There is evidence to suggest that increasing their numbers would reduce the alarming suicide rate among veterans, decrease the number of hospitalizations, and lower the cost of medications and human care.

The Costs involved in Service Dog Training

Unfortunately, there aren’t many service dogs available to veterans, and the cost involved in service dog training is a major obstacle.  According to Sen. Franken, it costs an average of $20,000 to train a service dog and another $5,000 to place the trained service dog with the veteran.

The Investment could Save Money in the Long Run

Nevertheless, Sen. Franken believes that a service dog will more than pay for itself over its life, and his proposed bill would test the return on investment with a pilot program that would provide service dogs to hundreds of veterans.

My bill will help train a statistically significant number of dogs to measure the benefits to veterans with physical and emotional wounds.  The program would be monitored and refined over a three-year period to optimize its effectiveness.

Frankly, I believe it is enough simply to improve the lives of those of whom we asked so much.  But this program isn’t just the right thing to do.  It’s the smart thing to do.  This is win, win, win, win.

Al Franken is a U.S. Senator from Minnesota.  He can be contacted at info@franken.senate.gov or by telephone at (202) 224-5641.

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DAWGS Gives Shelter Dogs and Florida Inmates a Second Chance

July 16th, 2009 6 comments

The Florida Department of Corrections announces that the first class of DAWGS (Developing Adoptable dogs With Good Sociability) graduated on July 8 at Gulf Forestry Camp.  The Department has teamed up with the St. Joseph Bay Humane Society to form a unique dog training school.  According to the press release, “DAWGS brings together shelter dogs with inmates and gives each a second chance to succeed.  DAWGS are trained by inmates at Gulf Forestry Camp, who were themselves trained by a professional dog trainer in hopes that they may find gainful employment upon release from prison.”

Inmates Teach Basic Dog Training Commands

The dog training course involves obedience training by an inmate for an eight-week period.  The dogs are taught basic dog training commands, such as sit, stay and come, and are taught to walk without pulling on the leash.  By graduation day, each DAWG is a well-trained dog.

Adopting a Dog

After the dogs have competed the training course, they are adoptable, having been spayed or neutered, housebroken, crate trained, vaccinated and checked for heartworm.  Adoption fees start at $150.  Of these first eight graduates, six were already adopted.  They will be replaced by a new class immediately, and the program is expected to graduate 60 trained dogs over the next year.

Inmates Gain Valuable Career Skills

There are inmate dog training programs at four Florida Department of Corrections facilities.  According to the press release:

Currently one in every three inmates released from the Florida prison system returns to prison within three years.  Through programs like DAWGS, the Department of Corrections is focusing on teaching inmates viable job skills that will lead them to productive jobs and law-abiding lives upon release.

Adopt a Dog or Make a Tax Deductible Donation

For information about the DAWGS program, go to their website.  You will find information about how to adopt one of these wonderful, well-trained dogs.  And you will also learn how you can help the program with a tax deductible donation.

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