The Battle Begins: SEAL Frog vs Army Dog

Frog Dog Beard OffAn epic inter-service, inter-species battle to raise awareness about veteran suicide, service dogs and PTSD. http://dogingtonpost.com/beardoff
Gander, a 3 1/2 year old Labradoodle is a battle buddy for an Army veteran in Chicago. Gander, with an online community of over 300,000 friends distinguished himself as a real hero when he saved a young girl last year from a charging stray and now does triple duty as a therapy dog, service dog and PTSD/suicide awareness advocate. he visits VA hospitals, nursing homes and hospices around the country. Rescued from death row in Colorado, Gander was trained by a prison program and then paroled to Freedom Service Dogs in Denver and trained for service as a mobility and PTSD dog. Gander is listed as co-curator for, In Dogs We Trust, a collection of inspirational dog stories by NYT bestselling authors. Learn more about Gander in this short PBS Video here: http://chicagotonight.wttw.com/2014/02/26/ptsd-service-dog
Rob DuBois is a speaker, teacher, coach and consultant who was labeled a “smart power authority” while assisting U.S., British and Iraqi forces in Baghdad. He is a multilingual Navy SEAL with operational experience in more than thirty countries. Rob is author of the book, Powerful Peace. Rob has presented his “Think like the Adversary” workshop to military units in the hottest combat zones, Fortune 500 corporate customers, and government agencies. He has served on the Deputy Secretary of Defense’s Senior Integration Group and directed operations for the DoD’s Red Team. Founder and CEO of SEAL of Peace Consulting, he lives with his family in the Washington, DC area and works anywhere on the planet.
The contest, co-sponsored by Dogington Post will run from March 1 to March 20th online. You can vote for the Navy Frog or the Army Dog at http://dogingtonpost.com/beardoff  and add pictures of your own bearded companion, “bearding” photos or best human/dog pair shot. Prizes will be handed out daily and grand prize winners announced on March 20th in Denver at the Watering Bowl, a dog friendly pub. The loser of the contest will have all hair, except his trademark beard, shorn off. The public can participate by uploading their own beard, bearded pair shots or “bearding” photos here: http://dogingtonpost.com/beardoff
The event will coincide with a book signing for In Dogs We Trust with five of the book’s author’s on hand and several invited celebrities. All proceeds from the event will benefit dog and veteran charities.
Follow the events on Facebook at http://facebook.com/ganderservicedog or here on veterantraveler.com
Follow Rob at https://www.facebook.com/SEALofPeace
And remember to upload your pics and vote for your favorite beard!

ALL proceeds from the sale of items during the event (to be posted later) will go to one of four wounded warrior charities.

Register now for the event:

Book Launch/Beard Off

Ten Things to Know About My Service Dog

It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.

–Antoine de Saint-Exupery

(Kea Grace did a wonderful article not long ago about the ten things handlers want you to know about their service dogs. Here is my personal ten. Here is Kea’s article: http://www.anythingpawsable.com/10-things-service-dog-handlers-want-know/)

1.) Gander is Always Working..

 Gander, my service dog has the most inviting demeanor and lovable face of any animal I have ever owned.  That and our seeming gregariousness in public make it hard not to engage him. And because he has a number of trusted friends that are allowed to interact with him it might appear we are not working. Gander is always on duty. Those that know us understand that Gander will drop everything, even his beloved tennis balls, to attend to my needs. People often whistle, click their fingers, bark, pet, call him to them or try to feed him treats. Please ask permission to interact with him and try not to reinforce him for being off task. He rarely loses focus, but in the event he does, please ignore him and let me engage him again. Please don’t ask him to “Sit”, “Shake Hands” or do tricks. He is a professional and he speaks a professional language. Most of the time he will not respond to your requests. Don’t feel ignored. He is on the job and his loyalty is to me.GANDER Dog

2.) Gander saved my life and continues to rescue me
I love this dog as much as anyone or anything in my life. He allows me to function in situations that are otherwise difficult. I respect his skills, his loyalty and know every nuance of his special and complex personality. He is my friend, my family and my connection to all that is good. Please recognize him, not as a dog, but as a essential part of my life and well-being.

3.) I am open about my conditions…

I am happy to discuss PTSD and other issues, but  not every wants to disclose why they have dog. For the first few months I had Gander I simply said: “He is a medical service dog.” After we started his page and began to advocate for suicide prevention and trauma survival I became more forthcoming. There are many invisible conditions that many people are reluctant to share. Please don’t ask: “Why do you need him?” As I have said before, the most common answer for me when people say I do not look like I need a service dog is: “It is because I have a service dog.”

4.) I may seem short on occasion if you ask questions

It is because I am asked the same questions 10-80 times a day: His age, his breed, his agency, his function. I am happy most days to share. I love to chat.  But, you may well be the 50th person that day who has queried me. And I may be trying to get a package mailed, a blog post written or help someone who in crisis. Please give me and my good intentions the benefit of the doubt. And know that many handlers, especially those with psychiatric issues, may not want to connect at all. We are all in varying stages of recovery,  and our dogs are part of our treatment plan.

5.) Yes, He is a Labradoodle and he is a real service dog

Gander was trained by Freedom Service Dogs in Denver. They use rescues: Poodles, Labs, Mutts of all kinds as do many services now. As Kea said in her article, many “fake” service dogs have created a hostile environment for us with non-standard pups. The barking, snarling purse dogs that people but vests for have made us suspect. Watch the behavior of the dog. If he is disruptive, you may ask them to leave your space and not be in violation of ADA regulations.

6.)  Gander is spoiled beyond belief….

Recently, there was a fire alarm in the complex where we live. The noise was deafening to me, so I cannot imagine how terrifying it was to Gander. I rushed him outside and held him until he stopped shaking. My wife was a little jealous 😉 …. he is well fed, massaged daily, and I put protective waxes and creams on his feet depending on the weather. I would stand in front of a speeding train to protect this dog. I think most handlers feel the same. We are grateful and protective.  I spend 24/7 with Gander, and we have a special correspondence system that alerts both of us to needs. I know when he is tired, hungry, thirsty, afraid or bored. I attend to his needs the way any good father or mother would care for his child.

7.) Gander is, by law, Medical Equipment
To paraphrase Kea here: “My Service Dog is medical equipment, just like a wheelchair, crutches or an oxygen tank. She is medically necessary and anywhere in public medical equipment is allowed, so is my Service Dog. Additionally, please treat her like medical equipment. You wouldn’t walk up to someone you didn’t know and just randomly start pushing their wheelchair” nor would you chat up a peron’s cane, so please don’t touch, talk to, pet or otherwise engage with my partner without consent.

8.) Gander Is Protected Under Law

Gander goes where I go. He has the same rights as I do. It is my responsibility to see that he does not infringe on anyone else’s rights. I understand some folks are afraid of dogs and that some religions do not hold them in high regard. I will do my best to respect those boundaries, but I will expect the law to be followed. Gander and I work hard to remain calm and educate those who do not know or understand the federal rules of access. We are all in this together.
9.) Gander has no “Papers”…

Gander was trained by an Assistance Dogs International certified trainer and passed a required access test that is pretty comprehensive. He performs about 50 difficult behaviors that are needed for the exam. He can back up in a crowded space, load and unload properly from a car, avoid any food or strange objects on the floor, sit and stay without me in sight for several minutes, position himself under tables in a restaurant and many other tasks directly related to my needs. IF a dog has papers or certifications (there is really no such thing for service dogs), they have no legal weight. In Illinois, business owners may ask only two questions: “Is that a service dog?” and “What two tasks does he perform for you?” There is a movement afoot to develop enforceable standards but as yet as long as the dog is not disruptive and the handler can answer those two questions you must allow access.
.

10.) “I would love to go everywhere with MY dog.”
I heard this at a local sandwich shop recently from an owner. And people often tell me they envy me. I would happily trade my night terrors and social struggles for a chance to retire Gander and give his vest to someone who needs it more. And please keeping mind that the extra work required to take him everywhere is akin to that of a mother or father with an infant child. It takes great preparation and constant vigilance. We are never apart.

 

 

 

 

 

Fake Service Dogs

The Real Trouble with Fake Service Dogs

The following guest post was written for The Dogington Post  

To fake it is to stand guard over emptiness.
–Arthur Herzog

There is a barely a day goes by that I do not see a tweet, news article or Facebook update about someone being denied entrance into a restaurant or shop because they are accompanied by a service dog. Many of the incidents have involved combat veterans and their PTSD Battle Buddies and other individuals with “invisible” disabilities.

Some businesses have suffered catastrophic losses and had their ignorance of disability regulations broadcast nationwide. Some of the public shaming has been wholly earned, while some businesses simply have never been educated and paid a heavy price for their on the job training. With the growing number of service dogs being employed and the explosion of new service dog agencies, the problem looks to get much worse before it gets better. So, why is it happening and what needs to be done?

A lack of standards for certifying a service dog, the growing number of online agencies that will sell anyone a vest and intimidating looking documents that imply the dog who carries them is legitimate, and a lack of proper training for service personnel, law enforcement and hospitality staffs are primarily to blame.

Libertyville, Illinois, the town adjacent to where I live, just passed an ordnance requiring Service Dog ID cards for “real service dogs.”  Therein lies the rub: There are no legitimate documents that can certify that any canine is authentic. While there are standards for trainers, there are no universally accepted standards for what constitutes an acceptable service dog. And the law itself, while sympathetic to local businesses who don’t want animals in their businesses for fear of losing customers, flies in the face of ADA requirements and standards.

The Veterans Administration, ironically exempt from Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) legislation is investigating requiring all dogs to be trained by Assistance Dogs International (ADI) certified trainers. That has caused uproar among established non-ADI trainers who opt out of ADI control over their methods. In the interim, the VA where I receive treatment is seeing a huge increase in the number of dogs and many of them inadequately trained and even dangerous.

A few weeks ago Gander, my service dog who was trained by an ADI certified trainer, was attacked by an aggressive dog who clearly had no business being in public: The dog barked, failed to heel, and attended little, if at all, to his human. They come in all shapes and sized: Earlier in the day I spoke to a veteran who openly, and almost proudly, admitted that he had bought his Chihuahua’s vest and laminated credentials online and that he proudly told people that his dog was a seizure alert companion. More recently, I watched a Great Dane with a service dog scarf wander from table to table in a local restaurant in search of scrap handouts while the owner laughed and encouraged horrified patrons to ignore him. Though service dog misrepresentation is a crime in many states, few businesses know enough about them to risk media humiliation by sending away a troublesome dog.

And agencies are not anxious to “certify” service dogs. It creates a measure of liability in out litigious society that suit happy plaintiffs and many lawyers would love to see. It could well imply the dog is somehow safe to be in public. While gander has never acted out, he is after all a dog and could possibly be goaded into a conflict an aggressive poser. And what if an innocent bystander was scratched or bitten in the process?

So, greeted with skepticism and questions, those of us with bona fide needs endure unnecessary hostility creates stress that is counterproductive and defeats the purpose for getting a PTSD service dog in the first place. I am worn out by franchises and chain stores rushing to the door to keep me from bringing in my “pet”. Starbucks, Subway and McDonald’s have led the way in abusive confrontations. But, I generally take a moment to explain and if there is still conflict I generally exit and write to corporate. I am saddened that confrontation has become routine for me.

“Fake is as old as the Eden Tree,” said Orson Welles. He is right.  I returned recently from eight years in China where nothing can be trusted to be as it appears. And the benefits for manufacturers to sell bogus products is not different than the motivation for a pet owner scamming their way into a hotel or onto an airplane with Fluffy or Spike to avoid the extra fees associated with bringing a furry companion.

So, what is there to do? One highly respected service dog group is circulating a petition to bring the Justice Department into the fray. They want the bogus registries shut down. But, I am not for that. Where there is an illegal will, there is a way and people will circumvent the law in an absence of true standards.

I propose a national conference on standards, training and registry that brings together hotels, restaurants, law enforcement, the ADA, trainers, service dog agencies and people like me with a vested interest in peaceful coexistence and accommodation. In the absence of agreement on what constitutes a service dog the problem will persist.

I envision a national hotline, a real registry site for dogs in training and who have passed a certification exam, national support for psychiatric patients who need training in social interactions with a dog, training seminars in conflict resolution for service staff, law enforcement and so on…

Education is the key…

 

Postscript:

Today, I was at a coffee shop and a woman asked me a question that sounded much more like an accusation: “What is wrong with you?” I took it in stride and replied with in my usual sardonic fashion. But, she represents a large percentage of Americans who have no idea why an able looking individual might need a dog. Imagine if her first encounter had been an aggressive fraud….

 

VA Math

I have a friend who was rated by the VA recently for a several serious medical conditions brought on by military service. His ratings were:

Diabetes brought on by Agent Orange exposure:     80%

 

PTSD from numerous firefights:                                 50%

Lost of vision in one eye:                                                30%

Degenerative disc disease caused by multiple injuries while serving as a paratrooper over 8 years:                                                                                  20%

Hearing Loss in both ears:                                             10%

Final Disability rating by the VA :                                 90%

Total Award:                                                                      $1,661 a month

Surprised? I will tell you below, after a short digression, how that is possible. Chinese math has nothing on the VA version….

When I was stationed at Ft. Sam Houston I roomed with a college educated draftee who was also teaching at the Academy of Health Sciences. He was less than enthused about having to wear an enlisted man’s uniform and was generally part of G2 (Intelligence) for any anti-authority prank that was pulled in our department. I came home one day to find him reading  The Officer’s Handbook. When I asked him why he had bought it he replied, “Sound philosophy, Lon: Know your enemy.”

While I don’t consider the VA an enemy, for there are a host of caring and dedicated individuals employed there, the system is clearly broken and in dire need of repair. To reform a system you must understand it. From time to time I will post articles to help you understand VA benefits and some of the barriers vets encounter as they try their hand at the toughest confidence course of their careers. I have found that few vets really know how it works so, I will try to explain in plain language.

The VA awards benefits based on a rating decision made by a specialist in one of 16 regional offices. The specialist begins with the most severe condition first. In this case the diabetes. He rated the vet at 80% disabled. Note: He had to be pretty sick to receive a rating that high. Next, he is rated for PTSD. 50% indicates he is functional, but debilitated. So, the rater now applies VA math: At 80% disabled he is thought to have 20% usable resources remaining. So, he is thought to be only 50% of the good 20% disabled. That ups his disability rating by 10%. Then the rater applies the formula to his disc disease: He has 10% usability left and 30% of the remaining 10 points of usability allows him to add 3% more to his total rating. His hearing is rated at 10% (the maximum they allow for claims) and that brings him to a grand total of 94.96% disabled according to VA math. And the VA rounds up at 95% and rounds down at 94.9% so, he is 90% disabled. and paid at that rate.

He/she can, if completely unemployable, receive compensation at the 100% rate ($2700), but must apply and be evaluated again. That takes another 6-16 months. It can be sped up if the veteran is certified as homeless by the VA, but the documents proving that could take 3-6 months to be entered into the file. The VA can give 100% unemployability, but does not seem to very often. One vet who had fought for his 80% rating for over a decade had not worked in ten years. He is still waiting for an unemployability decision.

So, for those of you who thought our wounded warriors were headed off to Aruba with their largesse, just do the math… It is difficult to get benefits and the ratings often vary wildly and do not always reflect the severity of the problem. A lot of money and personnel are being thrown at the problem. Here is hoping it works sometime before vets waiting for answers and benefits pass away.

I will post soon about how the VA arrives at a rating for each disability. That too should be an eye opener.