The Voices at Arlington

The Voices at Arlington

(This story first appeared in The Dogington Post ) 

“…what most separates dogs from humankind isn’t mental capacity, however, but innocence. This innocence carries with it a clarity of perception that allows dogs to glory in the wonder of creation in even the most humble scene and quiet moment…the combination of their innocence and their intelligence allows them to serve as a bridge between what is transient and what is eternal, between the finite and the infinite.” –Dean Koontz

Gander, my service dog, and I frequent veteran cemeteries and memorials when we travel. We accept requests in advance from friends and social media; contacts will ask us to visit a relative’s gravesite, take a picture of a name on a memorial or leave something in memoriam. Gander quietly sits vigil as I prepare for the rites I have promised to perform. I take this ritual seriously and Gander honors the gravity of promise fulfillment with exceptional calm and professionalism.

Because of the solemnity of our intentions, we go when few people are likely to be there with us at the same time. But, more than once we have exchanged whispered greetings along the way with others and have occasionally been invited into emotional drawing rooms: that place between the living and the dead where Gold Star families mourn. Twice, while at Arlington National Cemetery, Gander has called people deep in grief out of their sadness and comforted them as they spoke about love and loss.

I think we often see and hear what we want to see and hear; we interpret simple events as important lessons. And at other times life rally does conjure up for us exactly what we need, at that moment in time, to navigate toward safety and comfort; a last chance at rescue before resigning ourselves to being adrift forever.

Gander had stopped unexpectedly several times. He would look to me for approval and then gaze out toward the long rows of white markers. Then he would cock his head the way a dog does when someone is talking to him.

A women and her daughter who had been ahead of us for most of our journey toward the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier stopped just a few yards short of our destination. “Do you suppose he can hear them? The soldiers?” I was relieved. It wasn’t just me who thought he was in touch with something invisible and inaudible to we humans. It was a beautiful sunny day. There was a slight breeze, but it was barely strong enough to rustle leaves. He looked engaged, not perplexed or curious in the same caring way he connects with me when I need a dispassionate listener in times of inner turmoil.

She told me that she visits Arlington once a week. Her brother was interred not far away. He’d served in Vietnam as a hospital corpsman. His Purple Heart was earned with a minor injury when their mobile surgery facility was mortared one dark midnight in 1969. He’d been given the Silver Star for his selfless actions that same night while attending to patients without regard for his own welfare. She shared that he had left both medals at the base of Vietnam Memorial years ago as a tribute to the dozens of men he had watched succumb to injuries beyond medicine’s ability to repair.

The day his tour ended he was taken by helicopter from a fire base where he had been performing triage, deciding who would stand the best chance of quick treatment, for wounded members of a platoon that experienced heavy casualties when ambushed by the Viet Cong. He was transported to a waiting 727 that flew him to San Francisco where, still in jungle fatigues, he disembarked through a gauntlet of angry protesters. At twenty years old he was a stranger in his own country after only nine months in Vietnam.

He’d been afraid when he went, she said. The fear was replaced by the grief and guilt he felt on his return. She told me that remembered every name, and held pictures in his mind of every wound he had dressed. His world became television, books, and a dozen ways to pass the sleepless hours.

A job in the post office on the graveyard shift kept him financially solvent. He never applied for Veterans benefit. Working at night, there were few people who demanded his attention. But, the anxiety and depression worsened. And isolation couldn’t create enough new memories to replace the old ones.

By the time he reached out for help, the VA, with the casualties of two new wars to attend to, had few programs and little time to coax cooperation from an aging Viet Vet. The new counselor hires were kind enough, but they couldn’t empathize with a man, decades their senior, who could barely give voice to the increasing sadness and despair inside of him.

He left a note the day he hung himself. He said the only reliable friend left in his life was suicide. He asked not to be buried in a military cemetery because that was reserved for soldiers who fought and for those he’d watched over as they died. But, because money was tight she had arranged for him to be interred at Arlington.

“I feel ashamed. I want him to be at peace,” she said quietly. “Do you think he can ever forgive me?”

You want to say “yes” at moments like that. You want to have a spiritual connection; you want to believe that this kind of deadly regret can be vanquished. That another good person should die physically, emotionally or spiritually because they had done the best they could, should never happen.

I want to lie just to give her some peace. But, remorse and grief are clever, intuitive adversaries: They know when you have nothing more to offer than a “sorry” in the way of a anecdote, aphorism or falsehood meant to send them on their way. I had courted suicide for a long time. There, but for the grace of Gander and God, was I. But, I couldn’t do it. I didn’t know what to do or say.

Just then, Gander rose, turned again toward the graves, before slowly moving toward me with his head bowed. He reared back on his hind legs and placed his front paws squarely in the center of my chest and looked me straight in the eyes the way he does when I am overwhelmed and at a loss for words or actions. A long kiss on the cheek later and he pushed himself off, wheeling to turn toward the woman, who by now was in tears. He turned his body sideways and leaned his weight against her.

It hardly matters whether or not it was coincidence that Gander chose that moment to be affectionate. It has happened so many times now I am no longer surprised when it happens. There was no explanation needed, no words left to be exchanged between us. She did lean down to look into Gander’s endlessly soulful eyes to say “thank you”. We both received an answer we could believe.

“That’s what heaven is. You get to make sense of your yesterdays” –Mitch Albom

Veteran Traveler blogger Lon Hodge is an award winning poet, writer and activist for suicide prevention among Veterans and victims of trauma. He travels with his service dog Gander in support of awareness of the healing power of dogs.

Follow Gander on Facebook at http://facebook.com/ganderservicedog on Twitter at http://twitter.com/veterantraveler or on Instagram at http://instagram.com/veterantraveler

You Can Purchase In Dogs We Trust here: In Dogs
100% of profits go toward suicide prevention charities.
This story first appeared in The Dogington Post and will be included in the In Dogs We Trust e-book and softcover editions.

Fetch: Travels With Gander

“We don’t receive wisdom; we must discover it for ourselves after a journey that no one can take for us or spare us.”

Marcel Proust

I have wandered, not always lost, for most of my life. I have long said that I live in a dialectical solitude: I have purposely explored the far corners of life looking for truth and wisdom and believing it can be found in the most unlikely places. I look at everyone as a possible teacher and every place as a possible classroom. I often envy my friends who a resolute in their politics and have a fixed world view. I am sometimes jealous of my friends who have lived in one place the majority of their lives. Geographically searching for answers to endless questions can be lonely:  The distance between answers requires the patience and resolve of a seaman who knows he may never see land again and suffers less at the hand of rough waters than the introspection and doubt that is a great part of any quest.

I have to do this trip. It is as much for my own health as it is a chance to expose people to the realities of suicide, trauma and the tools required to survive invisible wounds. It is a chance to open doors and ready a welcome for the thousands soon to be heading home from conflict and trauma. It is the chance to maybe save a life or two.

I hope you will come along. I will be writing here on the blog and in newsletters more and using Facebook less. Their misguided moves toward stockholder governance and increased revenues with diminished regard for the communities they serve threatens the “social” in social media and has prompted me to return to more conventional methods of communication.

Thank you for being part of this journey so far. Especially to those of you who have suffered along with me as I learned how to execute the business parts of this adventure. You’ve been kind beyond measure and I ask with great humility for you to travel with me once more on the most important trip to date.

Again, my philosophy is “Something for something.” I have put together some great perks for helping with this next book. I have made them easier to provide and distribute since the last adventure. Here is the link to participate: FETCH: TRAVELS WITH GANDER

Operation Fetch

Operation FetchThe Service Dog Education and Assistance Foundation endorsed art and education journey

  • “Fetch: Travels With Gander” will feature 22  interviews with the families of veterans lost to home-front battles with PTSD and trauma recovery and contain takes of people we meet along the way who now know Post Traumatic Success as survivors of Trauma: war, accidents, sexual abuse…
  • Since the publication of In Dogs We Trust (a successful Indiegogo funded campaign) Gander, Service Dog and Veteran Traveler Lon Hodge have traveled 17 states  in service to veterans and trauma survivors. They have visited dozens of hospitals, community groups, and businesses advocating for veterans, trauma survivors, service dogs, and alternatives to suicide. Since the book Gander, through his Facebook page, has helped place dozens of survivors with service dogs, donated thousands of dollars worth of books to veterans and senior citizens hospitalized, and volunteered hundreds of hours of crisis help, and dozens of internet media and community seminars and workshops
  • This next book will personalize 22 of the stories of the 8,000 veterans lost to suicide annually in America. During the journey they will chronicle the Post Traumatic Successes of those who have won their battles with pain and isolation.
  • We will develop a PACK of  community members and carry out their charitable wishes: Planned Acts of Community Kindness will permit Gander and Veteran Traveler to identify survivors in short term (and legitimate) need that the PACK can easily help directly and with confidence.
  • We will publicly perform a Taps Ceremony nightly in every city we visit during which we read the names of 22 veterans lost to suicide. That is the number of veterans who are lost daily to self inflicted wounds.

What We Need & What You Get

It is simpler this year:

  • Our needs are meager. We need the money to travel to interviews and to take care of gas, room and board during the travel. And we need a few items prior to departing: Suicide prevention and awareness brochures, PTSD and service dog literature, a simple movie capable camera, and Portable Bluetooth speakers and microphones.
  • The perks are simpler this year 😉 We learned last year that we needed to simplify our giveaways and make them immediately accessible to supporters. This year’s perks are already in stock and will be mailed immediately after the campaign ends. We have also added in postage costs.
  • All Tees, In Dogs We Trust Books, Coins and Coffee will be sent immediately.

The Impact

We hope to spread hope, educate the general public and lower the suicide rate among veterans and others through education and greater awareness. One of the biggest challenges facing PTSD and trauma sufferers is the stigmas still attached to them. Only by being more openly public can we overcome that….

  •  Over 300 people have emailed or messaged us this year to say that Gander has helped them in some way. We feel compelled to continue the journey
  •  This is our 3rd Indigogo campaign in 3 years. We learn more each time….
  •  There but for the grace of God and Gander go I… I hope we can, in our small way, make a difference.
  • Here is the best of the many interviews we did this year: Gander, Service Dog
  • Here is a fantastic article by Rick Kambic that made the front page of the Lake County Tribune: Chicago Article

Other Ways You Can Help

Some people just can’t contribute, but that doesn’t mean they can’t help:

  • Get the word out and make some noise about your campaign.
  • Use the Indiegogo share tools!
  • Share our updates on our Facebook wall at http://facebook.com/ganderservicedog
  • Invite us to come to your town ( veterantraveler at veterantraveler.com )
  • Help us identify families to interview. Please use the address above
  • Just be a positive member of our community there…
  • Read our blog at http://veterantraveler.com

And that’s all there is to it!

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.

 

 

 

 

 

VA funding of service dogs: a second look…

“Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!”
― L. Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Several blogs and Facebook pages cheered this week when then VA announced it would fund the costs of service dogs for veterans.  freedom-service-dogs-pkg-tr.jpg?w=1500Ostensibly, this was something to rave about. In reality,    there was little to celebrate and the impact on veterans most in need of canine assistance will not be impacted at this time.

The VA decided two years ago, decided to pay ay for costs only associated with a service dog, but only in cases of physical disability.  That means that dogs needed for mobility, hearing, sight would be covered.  Psychiatric issues, like PTSD, were not to be covered.because the VA felt there was not enough evidence to show that the dogs were efficacious.  Despite the wealth of information available to show that service dogs save lives and improve quality of life the VA started an  administratively bloated study to determine if dogs could make a difference in the lives of vets.

The news release this week made it seem like the VA had shifted position. They have not. The only new feature in their policy is that Truepanion insurance company will be paying four the care of dogs “eligible” according to existing regulations.

Currently to get a dog you must have recommendations from your treatment  team, an evaluation by the appropriate clinic (ortho, audiology…) and then go through the prosthetic department who must requisition the dog from Washington, DC.  In addition, the VA also requires you to attend and complete a training course with your dog through Assistance Dogs International or the International Guide Dog Federation.  Once completed, the VA will pay for the costs associated with veterinary care, travel associated with buying and training the dog, along with hardware required for the dog to be able to assist the veteran. Ordinary costs of care (food and such) are not covered.

In my case, I was certified by orthopedics and psychiatry for a dog and then send to prosthetics. They denied my request because I was not service connected for my mobility issues. If I were in need of a wheelchair, crutches, surgery or any other equipment for a non-service connected issue I would be eligible because I am 100% service disabled. But, dogs are excluded equipment. It is like a medication or appliance that is not yet in their inventory due to cost or other reason.

The need for PTSD dogs to help tens of thousands of vets with combat and non-combat related related stress has spawned dozens of new service dog agencies. But, only a handful of them will be eligible for for VA programs for two reasons:

1. The VA will require that the agencies training dogs have Assistance Dog International accredited trainers or other agencies they designate. Most of the new programs do not have these trainers on board. “Veterans who are paired with a PTSD service dog often rave about how it improves their condition. Yet, there has been controversy  over the expertise and professionalism of organizations that have emerged to serve the demand…” The VA is the source of controversy and in past studies has levied some very unrealistic expectations on even ADI established agencies. I know firsthand as I was originally to be part of the VA study program started in Tampa, Florida.

2. The service dog must have been provided at no cost to the veteran. If the agency requires the veteran to raise any of the funds needed the dog is not eligible for the program. Cash strapped non-profits doing good work whether ADI certified or not will not benefit from the program.

With the number of vets returned and returning from war zones with PTSD estimated at nearly 30% of those who served it is a problem the VA needs to be addressing sooner than later. The current study by the VA is scheduled to conclude in four years. How many soldier will have taken their own life by that time. The generosity of the private sector and reputable groups like Freedom Service Dogs (who trained Gander) and Patriot Paws will have to rely on the kindness of their donors to further their live saving missions until the VA answers the growing call for alternatives and adjuncts to debilitating drug therapies.

 

 

  

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….

 

List of Service Dog Agencies

service dog agency listFollowing is an alphabetical list of service dog providers in the U.S. and a couple from Canada.

Please help us update the list by adding any organization you know, not here in the comment section below. Thank you!

This is a preliminary attempt to create a solid database of resources for people who hope to apply for service dogs. Soon we will have it searchable by State, Services Provided and so on.

Many agencies have sprung up in the last three to five years and I would like to add them in and would like to include more information on each of these groups.

If you know of a group we missed or have corrections for this list, please add a comment at the end of this post and we will index it ASAP.

Please include: Name, Address, Contact information, Type of Training (DIY, ect…) and client target population (Veterans, Hearing Impaired, Autism….).

Later I hope to include costs, waiting time, and other pertinent information. Thank you! to Maryann Helpern for researching and compiling this initial list.

Adler Assistance Dogs

Adlerdogs@aol.com

contact: Wendy Ender

Po Box 9728

Denver, Colorado 80209

Phone # 303-722-0327

 

AIM HI Service Dog Training center

(Animals in the military Helping Individuals)

North Plains District Vet. Command

Service Dog Center National Headquarters

833 McClellen Ave.

Fort Leavenworth,Kansas 66027

( military vets and their families only)

 

AIM HI Service DOg Training Center

CDR USA MEDDAC

Attn: MCVS ATA K

Pam Oughton, Director

Service Dog Training Center

Bldg.1489 Eisenhower Ave.

Fort Knox, Kentucky, 40121

phone# 502-624-8986

 

Alert Service Dogs

info @alertservicedogs.com

ASD,Inc.

9036 Buckeye Court

Indianapolis, Indiana, 46260

phone #- 800-518-1810

fax# 1-800-518-5144

 

Alpha K-9

Sacramento

info@alphak9.org

https://www.facebook.com/AlphaK9

7500 14th Ave.#21

Sacramento, California 95820

phone # 916-400-4337

 

Angel Service Dogs

PO Box 2756

Monument, Colorado,80132

 

Anything’s Pawzible

rendy@anythingispawzible.com

1330W North Ave,Chicago Illinois, 60622

phone#773-919-PAWS

 

Anything’s Pawzible

118 Madison ave

Cuyanoga Falls, Ohio

 

Arizona Goldens,LLC

AZGOLDENSLLC2COX.NET

PO Box 40776

Mesa,Arizona 40776

phone#480-205-6810

(emotional- autism service dogs)

 

Assistance Dogs of Hawaii

elena@interpac.net

PO Box 474

Hawi,Hawaii,96719

Phone# 808-889-0166

 

Barking Angels

www.barkingangelsservicedogfoundation

contact:Joe Giambione

7644 W.Dickens

Elmwood Park,Illinois 60707

Phone# 312-504-5225

 

Battle Buddies(USA)

www.battlebuddies.org

c/o Steven Frye

PO Box 922, Newport ,Rhode Island 02840

phone#

 

Battle Buddy Foundation

email

8859 Cincinnati_Dayton Rd. Suite 202

Olde West Chester, Ohio 45069

phone#

 

Blessings Unleashed Foundation

dana@blessingsunleashed.org

PO Box 1743

Glasgow, Kentucky 42142

phone # 270-670-4000

(autism service dogs)

 

Baltimore Service and assistance Dog Club

email-

6 St. Paul St. suite 902

Baltimore,MD 21202

 

 

 

Canadian Service Dog Foundation

www.servicedog.ca

address:

 

phone# 613-914-2733

 

 

Canines 4 Hope

Canines 4 Hope

Jason DeVito

Palm City, Florida

772-631-4931

 

Canine Angels Service Dogs
info@CanineAngelsServiceDogs.org
98 Shadow Moss Place
North Myrtle Beach, SC 29578
Phone | 917-575-6235
www.CanineAngelsServiceDogs.org

“We serve local veterans

in the coastal Carolinas and those

who can come here for training. ”

Canine Angels

info@canine-angels.org

Canine Angels

PO Box 526

Diamond Bar, CA 91765

Phone#1-888-541-846-6400

 

Canine Angels

info@canine-angels.org

Canine Angels

13475 N.Applegate Rd.

Grants Pass,OR 97527

phone#1-888-541-6400

 

Canine Battle Buddy

www.battle-buddy.org/

Canine Battle Buddy

8859 Cincinnati- Dayton Rd.Suite 202

Olde West Chester, Ohio 45069

phone#

 

Canine Companions for Independence

Debra Dougherty

North East Reg. training Facility

286 Middle Island Rd.

Medford,NY 11763

phone# 1-800-572-2275

&nbsp

Canine Assistants

A non-profit organization that trains and provides service dogs to enhance and improve the lives of children and adults who have physical disabilities, seizure conditions or other special needs.
3160 Francis Road
Milton, Georgia 30004
770-664-7178
Toll Free: 800-771-7221
Fax: 770-664-7820

Addtional info: The PBS special, and the book it was based on, “Through a Dog’s Eyes,” was based on this organization.

&nbsp

Canine Companions For Independence

Nicole Mouton, Exec.Director,NW

PO Box 446

Santa Rosa,CA 94502

phone#1-800-572-BARK

 

Canine Companions for Independence

8150 Clarcona Ocoee Rd.

Orlando,Fla.

phone# 407-522-3300

 

Canine Companions For Independence

SW Campus

PO Box 4568

Oceanside CA 92052

phone#-760-901-4300 or 1-800-572-BARK

 

Canine Canine Partners of the Rockies

info@caninepartnersofthe rockies.org

Canine Partners of the Rockies

c/o Linda Port

PO Box 460214

Denver, CO 80246

phone# 303-364-9040

 

Canine Partners For Life

www.K94life.org

canine Partners for Life

PO Box 170

Cochranville,PA 19330

phone- 610-869-4902

Fax- 610-869-9785

 

Canine Working Partners

canineworkingcompanions.org/cwc

Canine working Partners

PO Box 2128

Syracuse, NY 13220

phone#-

 

 

Central Pennsylvania Animal Alliance

info@cpaa.info

1802 Silver Pine Cir.

Mechanicsburg, Pa,17050

phone#-717-732-0611

Coalition for the Empowerment of Patriots, Inc.
Pets Empowering Patriots Program (A service dog therapy program for Veterans with PTSD, TBI, MST and/or physical disabilities)
http://www.empoweringpatriots.org
info@empoweringpatriots.org
P.O. Box 117
Griffith, IN 46319
219.798.1212

Canines for Veterans

info@caninesforservice.org

Canines For Service

PO box 12643

Wilmington, NC 28405

phone# 910-362-8181 or 1-866-910-3647

Coalition for the Empowerment of Patriots, Inc.
Pets Empowering Patriots Program (A service dog therapy program for Veterans with PTSD, TBI, MST and/or physical disabilities)
http://www.empoweringpatriots.org
info@empoweringpatriots.org
P.O. Box 117
Griffith, IN 46319
219.798.1212

Companions For Heroes

INFO@companionsforheroes.org

Companions For Heroes

PO Bx 7328

Fairfax Station, Va. 22039

phone#1-866-701-7553

Daffron Doghouse
http://daffrondoghouseownertrainingprogram.yolasite.com/.
DaffronDoghouse Owner Training Program
daffrondoghouseownertrainingprogram.yolasite.com
Ph# 913-523-6034

Discovery Dogs

DiscoveryDogs@DoscoveryDogs.org

Discovery Dogs

c/oSheri Denhower

PO Box 6050

San Rafael,CA.94903

phone# 415-479-9557

Fax-415-472-4431

 

Dogs Ears& Paws

info@eenp.org

Dogs Ears & Paws

c/o Maria Ikenberry

PO Box 3443

Chapel Hill,NC 27515

phone#919-408-PAWS(7292)

 

Dogs Ears & Paws

info@dogsandpaws.com

Dogs Ears & Paws

c/o Debbie Winkler

5399 Enterprise St.

Sykesville,MD 21784

phone# 410-655-2858 or 410-552-5052

Dogs for the Deaf

Phone: (541) 826-9220 or toll free outside of Oregon 1-800-990-3647

Mail: 10175 Wheeler Road, Central Point, Oregon 97502
E-mail: info@dogsforthedeaf.org
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DogsfortheDeaf

 

Canines for Service

PO Box 12643

Wilmington,NC 28405

phone# 1-866-9103647 or 910-362-8181

 

 

Dogs For Disabilities

info@dogsfordisabilities.com

Dogs for Disabilities

PO Box 537

Batavia,Ill. 60510

 

Dogs With A Mission

info@dogmission.com

Dogs With A Mission

c/o Jolanthe Wignholds

PO Box 40266

Washington,DC

phone# 202-669-8316

Fax 202-363-6595

 

 

Dogs Help

servicedogs@comcast.net

Dogs Help

c/o Myra Fourwinds

401 LaBore Rd #115

Little Canada, Minn. 55117

phone# 763-753-6260

 

Dublin Dog Foundation: Service Dog Charity

info@dublindog.com

Dublin Dog Foundation: Service Dog charity

1435 W. Morehead St.

Charlotte, NC

 

E.

 

Elite K-9 Academy

Jeanne or Nick Kutsukas

18291 126th Terr. N.

Jupiter, Fla.

phone# 561-575-3144

 

East Coast Asst.Dogs(Service Dogs)

ECAD1@aol.com

East Coast Assistance Dogs

Lu Picard

PO Box 831

Torrington, Connecticut 06790

phone# 860-489-6550

Fax- 860-489-3791

F.

 

Fidos for Freedom,Inc.

client services:clients@fidosforfreedom

Fidos for Freedom

1200 Sandy Springs,

Laurel,MD

phone# 410-880-4178 or 301-490-4005

Fax 301-490-0906

 

Freedom Service Dogs

info@freedomservicedogs.org

Freedom Service Dogs

2000 W.Union Ave.

Englewood,CO 80110-5567

phone-303-922-6231

Fax-303-922-6234

 

G.

 

Gold Str Dog Training

goldstar252@yahoo.com

Gold Star Training

c/o Eric Sanders

Parumph,Nevada, 89060

phone# 702-497-7229

 

Great Plains Assistance Dogs

gpad@daktel.com

Great Plains Assistance Dogs

c/o mike Goehring

PO Box 513

Jud, ND 58454

phone 701-685-2242

Fax- 701-685-2290

 

H.

 

Handi-Dogs(service dogs)

service@handi-dogs.org

Handi-Dogs

75 S.Montego Dr.

Tucson, Arizona 85710

phone-520-326-3142

fax- 520-319-8186

 

Happy Tails Service Dogs,Inc

c/o Joyce Weber

One West Sequoia Drive

Phoenix, Arizona 85027

phone# 623-580-0946

 

Hawaii Canines for Independence

Mauer@mauer.net

Hawaii Canines for Independence

c/o Mo Mauer

PO Box 790626

Pala, Hawaii 96779

phone#-808-250-5799

H4 – Hounds Helping Heroes Heal

(Creating a healthier future for U.S. Military Veterans who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and/or Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) by pairing them with an Emotional Support Animal (ESA) or PTSD Service Dog that has been rescued from a shelter.)

http://www.h4hero.com/

P.O. Box 153

Mansfield, TX. 76063

Email: info@H4hero.com

 

Hero Dogs- Service Dogs for america’s Heroes

hero@hero-dogs.org

Hero Dogs( service Dogs for America’s Heroes)

PO Box 64

Brookeville, MD 20833

Phone & Fax- 1-888-570-8653

 

I.

 

Independence Dogs

idi@netreach.net

Independence Dogs

c/o M.Jean King

146 State Line Rd.

Chadsford, PA 19317

Phone#610-358-2723

Fax-610-358-5314

 

k.

 

K-9 Service Dogs of New Jersey

K9chieftrainer@juno.com

K-9 Service Dogs of NJ

Oradell,NJ 07649

phone# 201-200-4368

Fax#-201-244-1117

 

Karosel Service Dogs

shirlee@bigsky.net

Karosel Service Dogs

c/o Shirlee Walker

4805 DesChamps Lane

Missoula, Montana 59808

phone# 406-543-7672

 

Keystone Human Services

mdehart@keystonehumanservices.org

Keystone Human Services

124 Pine Street

Harrisburg, PA 17101

phone# 717-232-7509

toll free- 1-800-377-6504

 

L.

 

Lonestar Assistance Dog Service(LADS)

LADS7612@charternet.net

Lonestar Assistance Dog Service

c/o Vivian Ausmus

PO Box 1528

Azle,Texas, 76098

phone#-817-249-8585

 

Loving Paws Assistance Dog

lvgpaws@lovingpaws.com

LOving Paws Assistance Dog

c/o Linda Jennings

PO Box 12005

SantaRosa,CA 94506

phone#707-586-0789

 

M.

 

Makana Aloha Foundation

Asst. Dogs of Hawaii

mo@assiatancedogsofhawaii.org

Makana Aloha Foundation

c/o Will & Mo Maurer

PO Box 1803

Makawao,Hawaii 96768

phone# 808-298-0167

 

Midwest Assistance Dogs,Inc.

c/o Mark Halasz

PO Box 1891

S.Bend Indiana,46634

phone# 574-272-7677

 

N.

 

Nanhall Training Center

c/o Frances Shatner Keys

2206 Martin Luther King Dr.

Greensboro, NC 27406

phone# 919-272-6584

 

New Horizons Service Dogs/the Lost Tree Charitable Fund

info@losttreefoundation.org

New Horizons Service Dogs

11520 Lost Tree Way

North Pam Beach, Fla. 33408

phone# 561-622-3780

Fax# 561-626-5885

 

New Life Mobility Assistance Dogs

newlife@NLMAD.org

NLMAD

PO Box 659

Moravian Falls, NC 28654

phone# 336-838-2215

 

Next Step Service Dogs

support@nextstepservicedogs.org

Next Step West Coast Chapter

PO Box 130487

Carlsbad,CA 92011

phone#768-438-9190 or 858-945-2455

Sally Montrucchio- training Dir. – West Coast leader

 

Next Step service Dogs

NJ Branch

no info

would call the west coast branch for info

 

North Star Foundation

www.northstardogs.com

northstarfoundation@charter.net

North Star Foundation

attn: Patty Dobbs Gross, Exec. Director

20 Deerfield Lane

Storrs, Connecticut,

phone31-860-423-0664

 

 

Northwest Battle Buddies

northwestbattlebuddies@gmail.com

Northwest Battle Buddies

PO Box 2511

Battle Ground, Washington,98604

phone#360-601-9744

 

P.

 

4 Paws for Ability

info@4pawsforability

4 pawsforability

253 Dayton Ave

Xenia,Ohio 45385

phone# 937-374-0385 or 937-708-6677

 

Paws Abilities

c/o Glen Martin

3735 Big Flat Rd.

Missoula,montana 59804

phone# 406-549-0221

 

Paws & Stripes

www.pawsandstripes.org

veterandogs@pawsandstripes.org

 

Paws for Freedom

lashearer1@yahoo.com

10580 Barkley St. suite 455

Overland Park,Kansas,66212

phone# 913-901-9400

 

Paws for Purple Hearts

sandra@pawsforpurplehearts.org

Paws for Purple Hearts

PO Box 50275

Arlington, VA 22205

phone#202-681-9575 or 707-238-5110

 

Paws for Purple Hearts

bonnie@pawsforpurplehearts.org

5860 Labeth Avenue suite A

Rohnert Park,CA 94928

phone# 202-681-9575 or 707-238-5110

 

Penny’s from Heaven Foundation,Inc.

www.pennysfromheavenfoundation.org

Penny’s from Heaven Foundation, Inc.

13423 Blanco Rd. Suite 218

San Antonio, Texas, 78216

phone#

 

Pets for Vets-Houston

contactforpetsforvetshouston.com

Pets For Vets

Jessica Devitt- Pres.

7941 Katy Freeway #175

Houston, Texas 77024

phone#713-364-6235

 

Pets for Vets-Chicago_Ill.

contact@chicagononprofit.org

Pets for Vets Chicago

345W. Canal St #C0001

Chicago,Illinois 60606

phone#312-583-7610

 

Pets for Vets-Wilmington,NC

pets-for-vets.com/

409 Black Diamond Drive

Wilmington,NC 28411

phone# I would call the Houston or Chicago #’s

as it looks like there are many divisios_ but not always full info. ( check for one near you)

 

Paws with a Cause

paws@alliance.net

Paws with a cause corp. office

1235 100th St S.E.

Bryon Center, Michigan 49315

phone# 616-696-0688 or 1-800-253-PAWS

 

Pro_Train

protrain@flash.net

Pro-Train

c/o Mark Castillo

1544 Avohill Dr.

Vista,CA 92084

phone# 877-223-3647

 

Puppies Behind Bars ( service dogs for vets)

puppiesbehindbars.com

Puppies Behind Bars

126 W 38th St. 4th floor

New York, NY 10018

phone# 212-680-9562 or 212-689-9330

 

Puppy Jake Foundation

Beckysbeach@aol.com

Puppy Jake Foundation

c/o Becky Beach

4020 John Lynde Rd.

Des Moines, Iowa 50312

phone# 515-490-9766

 

S.

 

Sam Simon Charitable Foundation

info@samsimonfoundation.org

Sam Simon Charitable Foundation

c/o Jannelle Hackman

30765 Pacific Coast Highway #113

Malibu, CA 90265

phone#-310-457-5898

(hearing dogs)

 

Semper Fido

Info@semperfido.org

Semper Fido

131 KenilworthRd

Marlton, NJ 08053

phone# 1-856-810-3923

 

Service Dog Express

Laurie@servicedogexpress.com

www.servicedogexpress.com

FB:Sevice Dog Express

Service Dogs Express

207 Willow Grove Drive

San Antonio,Texas 7824

phone#210-201-3641

 

Service Dogs For America

info@servicedogsforamerica.org

ServiceDogs For america

920 Short Street

Jud, NOrth Dakota 58454

 

Service Dogs of America

jackrayl@megiscounty.net

Service Dogs of America

c/o Pres. Jack Rayl

PO Box 228

Nitoa, Tennessee 37826

 

Service Dogs of Virginia

info@servicedogsva.org

Service Dogs of America

PO Box 408

Charlottesville, Va. 22902

phone# 434-295-9503

 

Service Dog Project

info@SERVICEDOGPROJECT.ORG

Service Dog Project

37 Boxford rd.

Ipswich, Maine 01938

Phone# 978-356-0666

 

Service Dog Training Programs

workinglikedogs.com

Working Like Dogs

PO Box 4578

Santa Fe, New Mexico 87502

phone# 1-866-445-3647

 

Service Dogs-Tackett Services

Tom@tackettservicedogs.com

Service Dogs-Tackett Services

PO Box 2461

Orange,CA 92859

phone#714-608-1077

 

Service Pets for Service Vets

RSMF.org/service

Pets for Service Vets

12 Port Access Rd.

Erie, PA 16507

phone#

 

Shore Service Dogs

info@shoreservicedogs.com

PO Box 2251

Salisbury, MD 21802

phone- cost too high for provider

please e-mail for info

 

Soldiers Best Friend_ Arizona

contact@asoldiersbestfriend.org

Soldiers Best Friend

5955 W.Peoria Ave.#6242

Glendale, Arizona,85312

phone#-480-269-1738

Fax-623-234-4815

 

St.Francis Service Dogs

info@stfrancisdogs.org

S. Francis service Dogs

PO Box 19538

Roanoke,VA 24019

phone# 540-342-3647(DOGS)

fax 540-342-0906

 

Sterling Service Dogs

info@sterlingservicedogs.org

Sterling Service Dogs

3715 E.Fifteen Mile rd.

Sterling Heights, michigan 48310

Phone#586-977-9716

Fax-

586-977-0079

 

Susquehanna Service Dogs

SSD@keystonehumanservices.org

Susquehanna service Dogs

555 LeSentier Lane

Harrisburg, PA 17112

phone#/fax-717-599-5920

 

 

T.

 

Tender Loving Canines-Service Dogs(TLCAD)

info@tlcad.org

TLCAD

PO Box 1244

Solana Beach,CA 92075

phone#1-800-385-1282

858-461-6827

Fax 858-461-6846

 

The Spirit Training Center- Home Of TLCAD

(all ifo above the same except address)

1250 Activity Drive Suite A

Vista, CA 92081

 

The Carlson Company(Service Dogs)

ccarlson@carlson.com

The Carlson Company

2305 Daniels st.

Madison Wisconsin,53718

phone#608-222-4540 ext.123

 

The Good Dog Foundation

info@thegooddogfoundation.org

The Good Dog Foundation

PO Box 1484

NY,NY 10276

phone# 888-859-9992

Fax-888-861-7312

 

U.

 

USA Battle Buddies

only info found is an e-mail address

usabattlebuddies@gmail.com

 

V.

 

Vets Adopt Pets(service dogs)

vetsadoptpets@gmail.com

Vets Adopt Pets

PO Box 15041

SanFrancisco, CA 94115

 

W.

 

WAGS/Vicon Kennels

C/o Connie Standley

36436 Calhoun rd.

Eustis, Florida 32736

phone: 352-482-3988

 

Warrior Dog Foundation

www.warriordogfoundation.org

warriorDog Fund

PO Box 108

Cooper, Texas 75432

phone#

 

Wilderwood Service Dogs

wilderwood@charter.net

www.wilderwood.org

Wilderwood Service Dogs

139 Tuckaleechee Tr.

Maryville,Tennesse 37803

phone#& fax 865-660-0095

Tiffany Denyer,Ex. Director

 

Wisconsin Academy for Graduate Service Dogs,Inc.

info@wags.net

WAGS

c/o Carla Coleman

1338 Dewey Circle

Madison,Wisconsin,53703

phone#608-250-9247

 

Wisconsin Correctional Liberty Dog Program

warden-Dan Bertrand-Daniel Bertrand@doc.state.wi.us

sister Pauline- siaterop@ime.net

Robert Kent -Robert Ken@doc.state.wi.us

Superintendent Bob Kent

Sanger B Powers Correctional

N8375 County Line Rd.Oneida, Wisconsin 54155-9300

Phone# 920-869-1095

 

Wounded Warrior Project

www.woundedwarriorproject.org

4899 Belfort Rd, Suite 300

Jacksonville, Florida 32256

Phone 877-team-WWP(832-6997

904-296-7350

fax-904-296-7347

There are about 15 contact offices in 15 states-

go to www.woundedwarriorproject.com

when in go to contact us: you will see the contacts

 

 

Thank you

20130819-102847.jpg

I get 1-2 requests a day from good people asking for different kinds of financial support, asking questions about how to obtain a service dog, requesting votes for an online contest, or raising support to pay for an assistance dog…

I live on a tight fixed income, but I’ve donated funds many times to help folks who love their dogs enough to have to swallow their pride and ask for outside help when they have no alternative. And I’ve put every one of those requests that seemed authentic on my twitter feed @veterantraveler for 70,000 others to see. I have watched closely and been pleased to see aid come in from friends online for worthy causes.

I’ve connected over a dozen people with advice and referred them on to service dog agencies. Several are waiting now for their companions.

I’ve asked you to support good causes by voting for credible and genuine friends like the Dogington Post as they supported Mill Dog Rescue. I hope we can continue those kinds of efforts.

In the future: I will refrain from soliciting votes for strictly vanity contests. I saw, through the Hero Dog Awards, the anger and discord they bring. I do want to help in events, like those sponsored by American Dog Magazine, where folks without a large support base, like us, can get recognized. And I always want to assist if one of our community members needs support for something worthy.

Gander’s Facebook wall, after the In Dogs We Trust book campaign, will continue to provide smiles and to act as a conduit for acts of kindness. That said, I think our time, money and talent should be respected and never exploited. Social media is in need of new ideas and better that better value us as people and not consumers. Social media needs a conscience check.

I was reluctant to engage friends here in my book campaign. For years I have avoided ads, solicitations and commercialism on all my feeds. I worked hard to build an online community I could learn from, not exploit.

But we have to start somewhere. And once the Indiegogo campaign finishes I hope we will just enough funds from the sale of the books and treats to sustain our charitable agendas: emotionally and physically wounded warriors susceptible to suicide, service dog access and canine rescue efforts.

I’ll be posting an article about our goals and how we plan to meet them next year. It will include visits to towns around America to teach children and small businesses about Service Dogs. And we will be visiting, as always, veteran memorials and resting places where we hope to offer up a twenty-one gun salute to homefront casualties of war: soldiers who have committed suicide. We want shed more light on these men and their stories in hopes of impacting treatment and reducing the shame of asking for help. We will play taps and fire off one shot to represent each one of the 21 vets who took their own lives that day. And we will talk to media and as many people as possible about the healing power of alternative therapies like service and emotional support dogs.

Nothing is ever expected of you here. Nothing. I’m honored to be able to share the adventures of a truly extraordinary dog and the wonderful people he meets. It is a triple pleasure to be part of these stories, share the tales with you and leverage any attention we might get into some measure of social good.

Thank you for all you have done …

IN DOGS WE TRUST: Support Page
http://veterantraveler.com/in-dogs-we-trust-support/

Take a Gander…

“Dogs are minor angels…”

–Jonathan Carroll

It seems including a service dog in my logo wasn’t just wishful thinking: I was on my way home from watching Frank & Robot yesterday when I received a call from Freedom Service Dogs in Denver telling me I was soon to be blessed with a new traveling companion. It was a touch of synchronicity, because the film was, in part, about companionship and our dependence on others, no matter how tough or self reliant we imagine ourselves to be…

I have had a series of best friends of different breeds. My dogs and I have always viewed the world together with a slight turn of the head before heading off together to enjoy a quiet walk in the woods or a sunset over the lake. Dogs are charitable sidekicks: always seeming to know what not to say at just the right time.

This will be new for me. Unconditional love is part of a dog’s DNA, so I feel a little guilty about asking more of a friend who, even without training, will do more for me than I will ever do for him.

FSD tells me that Gander is the name of my PTSD savvy buddy-to-be. He is a chocolate, mixed breed who was rescued from a shelter before being enlisted in the service and trained by FSD’s extraordinary team of handlers.

FSD was founded in 1987 by P.J. and Michael Roche after a disabling car accident that personally informed them about the tremendous need for canine helpers. The program has strategic alliances with the VA, Denver University’s Institute for Human/Animal Connection and the Graduate School of Social Work and Assistance Dogs International a training standards organization.

I was in China and in the midst of my physical and PTSD symptoms worsening I found myself rescuing local strays and in doing so I noticed improvement in my affect and mobility. I had seen videos of pets being brought to nursing homes and prisons to combat depression, but I had no idea that it was a fast evolving treatment strategy in the U.S. for veterans. Soon after, I watched a video about FSD and began to explore the possibility of a service dog for myself. I was sure that a match for me would be life changing.

FSD answered my email the same day and I downloaded the application. FSD is appropriately cautious and very thorough. Each of the 35-40 dogs they train each year costs from $20-25,000 for its 9-12 months of specialized training and is then gifted, at no cost, to the veteran. Before receiving a dog, the recipient must meet eligibility requirements, wait 12-18 months for a match and then attend three weeks of training with handlers and the dog.

The professional staff considers themselves to be”dog people” first and foremost. That means each veteran sign contracts that call for high-level care of the service dog. FSD makes a lifetime training and care commitment to both the dog and his human.

The application process was a several week journey for me. I secured the required medical evaluation and certification from my VA doctor, finished my personal statement, and took it with me to FSD in Denver for the required face-to-face interview and matching procedure. For matching, the handlers brought in poodles, labs, and a gentle giant of a dog they appropriately called Zeus. They watched carefully to see how dogs and I got along. I not-so-secretly hoped for a black lab. But, one look at Gander’s intelligent, confident, scruffy face yesterday and I couldn’t remember why I wanted a different breed of dog.

I will be heading for Denver in September to meet and attend school with Gander. In the interim, he is being taught to to do specific tasks the team identified for me:

  • Retrieving items to my hand
  • Turning lights on when I enter my house
  • “Check it out” or “clear the room”: Having him check for anyone else that might be there.
  • Find the phone to retrieve it in an emergency situation.
  • Find a person when needed
  • Brace to get up: He will help me get back up if I fall. (When I first spoke to FSD I had real trouble with autoimmune arthritis issues. They are better now. )
  • Block/Post: He will stand in front or behind me to create “safe” space in public
  • Lean and interact: He will lean on me to keep me grounded and attending to what is around me. I hear he loves to lean in and kiss…
  • He will interact with me in ways that will help pull me out of night terrors or nightmares
  • He will heel very close to my right leg (it is usually the left) when I am walking so that he can help me walk across pedestrian bridges and stay more in the middle away from real or imagined danger
  • My life has already changed. I’m walking a little brisker and I’m attending to people with dogs the way an expectant father cops at infants in the supermarket. School in Colorado can’t get here fast enough. As Corey Ford said: “Properly trained, a man can be dog’s best friend.”
    My indiegogo campaign for Gander:
    http://indiegogo. com/veterantraveler

I will be telling you more about my minor angel in weeks to come. In the meantime, please follow FSD on Twitter: http://twitter.com/freedomsvcdogs and visit their service dog website to see how you might help.

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My PTSD (part 2)

Several people emailed and messaged me following my last post on PTSD. They thanked me for articulating their feelings. I am humbled by the number of people still unable to give voice to the dysfunction and depression in their lives caused by trauma and I respect and honor that they are not ready to go public with their pain. I promise that this will be the last of my laundry list style posts, but I will visit my own struggle, past and present, in posts to come. I will shed light on the “lost years” via stories about the people who helped and those who capitalized on my weakness. Thank you for writing. And please continue to write to me. Please comment. It is part and parcel of my recovery.

Anais Nin said, “People living deeply have no fear of death.” It’s true that most of us who backpack one or two standard deviations farther out toward the horizon have little time to ruminate about death. We were too busy living it…

Wounded writers, artists, athletes, explorers, abuse victims and warriors have one thing in common: We don’t fear tumbling into the abyss again as much as we are terrified of returning to routine and normalcy after trauma has dilated our senses. As the old joke goes: It is not the fall that will kill you, it’s the sudden stop. The body, no longer protected by endorphins, neurosteroids and adrenaline screaming into every cell, is suddenly left without properly functioning emotional or physical battlement to help protect against the worst memories of our descent and of the collision: these are sights, smells and sounds that throw the body into full defensive mode and at the most inappropriate of times.

Part of the issue can be explained by classical conditioning. Pavlov’s Dogs salivated every time a tone, that had been paired with food many times, sounded. The same can happen with trauma. Everything nearby can trigger a chemical memonic. And you cannot simply will, meditate or exercise away this kind of anxiety.

One unethical experiment from years past demonstrates the negative biological power of adversity. Humans are hardwired to be afraid of two things: heights and loud noises. Knowing this, experimenters presented an infant with a very huggable looking rabbit. But, each time the child reached for the animal the behavioral scientists would crash a large cymbal behind him.He would fall forward in sobs and tears and in no time at all the child panicked at the sight of anything resembling a rabbit. His system had been trained to react. No talk therapy was going to convince a traumatized baby that rabbits were anything but terrifying. It is no different in sexual abuse, domestic violence, accidents or combat. Those things in and around the stress become associated with it. The generalizations can be specific and narrow or disturbingly broad and can emotionally charge other things seemingly unrelated to the original event: sights, sounds, colors, time of day….. And these episodes can become so debilitating, they will destroy your trust that anything or a anywhere can be safe and you are left believing that it might be better to take your own life than to be visited by more anxiety or depression. Our willingness to face adversity in the first place is not always equal to our ability to handle its consequences. And because it is biological in nature it should not reflect poorly on the victim’s character or strength. Take for example the admission by Medal of Honor recipient Dakota Myer this week. He was so debilitated by his experiences that he attempted suicide. He is a hero again for talking about the price he paid for his bravery.

A couple of weeks ago I was the first car behind a particularly grisly accident. An open top jeep had flipped, rolled and then ploughed its way from the interstate into a forest preserve boundary fence. The driver, a young man in his twenties, was in shock and thankfully couldn’t feel the multiple compound fractures, bones protruding through his skin. I called 911, rendered simple aid and kept him warm and reassured. It wasn’t until after the ambulance left that I noticed how fast my heart beat of how shallow my own breathing had become. And I wept as much to release the scene, mourn my own past traumas and because I was incredibly sad for a man whose life was altered much too soon. It is my nature to run toward adversity and danger, but only if there is little tome between the event and my intervention. Any delay, and stress will debilitate me.

My anxiety has spread to things I once loved and to tasks that I once performed with ease. On my trip to Detroit I made a trip to Canada to test my passport. I had laundered it in a commercial washer and since it looked a bit worse for the wear, I did not know if it would pass border inspections. It did, but caused me irrational tension during the discovery. I told a friend when I returned how nervous the experience had made me and she replied that she understood because most of us are a little jolted by immigration inspections. Yes, but it is a matter of degrees. My resting heart rate is now 95-110. A few short years ago it was 46-48. To hit the gas and spur a corporeal engine already running all-out is nothing short of terrifying.

Since the 90s I have daily experienced most of these symptoms:

–Insomnia. It is hard to get to sleep and hard to stay asleep.

–Night Terrors. At least 2-3 times a week I wake almost numb with fear though cannot remember what I was dreaming about. I sit up in bed in the midst of dreams and for minutes at a time before I wake do not know where I am. This can be pretty upsetting for anyone spending the night.

–Reactivity to loud noises. I go to the theater often, but at hours when few people are there so they won’t be bothered when I leave to recover from the THX or Dolby blarings of a Hollywood movie. When my chest hurts so badly I think I might be having a heart attack, I head for the lobby. Theater staff know me by name now and are kind beyond measure. Car horns, intense arguments, and alarms can bring me to the brink of panic.

–Crowds. I will avoid large gatherings. I have turned down over 100 speaking opportunities in recent years. Where I was a keynote presenter in years past it is rare for me to even be a panelist. And if I do participate I have to work so hard to stay calm that I am exhausted by the end of a presentation. The response cost is terribly high. I become disoriented and confused in traffic and busy malls. It is best for me to avoid them. China is a bit problematic as it is always crowded, everywhere.

–Sudden contact from someone I do not know. I am not proud of the fact that I have wrist locked, hip tossed or otherwise subdued several people over the last few years after being surprised or assaulted. I am not proud of the fact that I have put people on the ground from Tiananmen Square to Stockholm, Sweden. Well, except for that thief at the Summer Palace …But, I digress. Even were I not a Hapkido Master, my extreme fight or flight reactions would make me a dangerous adversary.

–Heights. I used to love rappelling backwards off a helicopter skid. Now, I cannot cross a pedestrian bridge without a crippling rush of adrenaline. I visited the Dunhuang Buddhist Grottoes on the Silk Road this year and had incredible trouble navigating simple scaffolding only 1-2 floors above the ground. I am humiliated when I have to chart a course down the center of an overpass and run across to keep from being stranded in the middle by fear.

–Creativity. I stopped writing poetry the same year I won a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Literature. The medication I had to take robbed me of ambition and original thought. The struggle is whether to be stress free, but with a chemical lobotomy and the artificial anger that it creates, or to fight anxiety ocean with a sword. The latter seems a bit more heroic.

–Coffee, Epinephrine… More than a single cup of coffee may well render me too stressed to drive and conversation comes to a halt because I am trying to keep my body from accelerating into a panic attack. I don’t like shots and won’t ingest anything that might hype me up.

–Memory. I once had a nearly eidetic memory for certain things. Years after they graduated I could tell students where they sat in my class and could remember names and details about their lives even if we were not close. These days I have trouble with recall and it is not unusual for me to forget the simplest things, much less long term data (CRS)…This is likely due to the side effects of the Klonopin doctors put me on years ago and because parts of the brain are actually destroyed when under constant pressure. The desk clerks where I live have spare keys at the ready and have retrieved dozens of things I have left behind. They now assume that any lights left on in the parking lot are mine. They kindly say that all is not right in the universe if I have remembered everything. I have a number of task lists, but they do little good when you can’t locate the list 😉

–Egress. I study a room to make sure I can exit and can defend myself if a problem occurs. I do not need my back against the wall, but I need a clear field of vision. I have noticed at the VA that new hospital staff will often walk directly behind some of the vets. The docs will look puzzled when the patient stops and glares as he lets them pass. Nobody likes to be “snuck up on” but PTSD sufferers like me are especially hypervigilant and much easier to threaten.

–Hypervigilant. I love the Psychic Detective show on TV as I am pretty similar to the protagonist. People watching has always been my hobby, and clinically I am a great diagnostician. These days, it is a survival response. I scan everyone in unfamiliar places. It is a threat assessment. That is why I frequent the same restaurants, gas stations and coffee shops day in and day out and get to know the people there. It is less tiring than being overly alert.

–Social Interaction. I am either too talkative or not talkative enough until I get to know you. I was a champion speaker and professional communicator. These days I’m just happy to survive a conversation. It is why I am anxious to get a service dog: A buffer and grounding tool when things are too much to handle. Too, I avoid conflict now. It has led to disastrous ends in some situations. In China unethical folks took great advantage of my detours around confrontation and I was cheated by a number of folks and always took the financial and reputational hits for the consequences of my avoidance. For the record: I own the failures and am still working to make amends where they are due. There are a handful of folks that should be aware that they are not yet off the hook for their transgressions.

–Confidence. Nothing will erode your confidence like this. To go from successfully competitive to incapacitated is a journey I pray you never take. And people will be sympathetic to those with physical difficulties, but suspicious and unforgiving with those struggling with mental health struggles.

My world view has changed because of this. I think the public and business worlds are basically bad, with a few good people in them. I am thankful to many of those few good and trustworthy people in my camp. It may sound devastating. And there are days that it is unbearable. The good news: I continue to learn how to accommodate for my issues while not expecting it from others. I will survive this as best I can. I am still competitive and determined, most days, that PTSD won’t deter me from finding a way through this while helping others in the process. It truly is about the journey and I intend to enjoy every bit of it I can.

Where self will comes in is this: It would be easy to give up and spend my days holed up like I was years ago afraid to go outside. But, to desensitize you must have experiences that train your body to let go of fear and let stimuli that once were your enemies assume neutral or helpful roles. Eleanor Roosevelt said that you gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing which you think you cannot do. I gave up Tae Kwon Do, Writing, Speaking, Teaching. Everything I have accomplished these years has been in spite of this goddamn disease.  More to come…

 

 

 

Today’s call to action:

Follow Patriot Paws, a service dog training organization that provides help to people with emotional and physical disability. They do charitable double duty by training prisoners how to train dogs. Their students have a 0% recidivism rate.

On Twitter: @patriotpaws

On Facebook: Patriot Paws