Monday, April 5, 2010

Service Dogs & Social Services

In one of those extremely trying days at work which started with very early morning phone calls, I have to admit there are times that I really wonder why I'm in social services. Someday I do indeed plan to write full-time, but for now I see myself as helping people and gathering lots of material...

Near the end of the day, after working with three especially nice clients, I realized that although it is tough, it is indeed rewarding helping people. Especially when the people are so thankful and the help is so needed.

Of all the things I've been able to do over the years, my most fulfilling has been being able to help clients get service dogs. Anyone that knows me knows I am a huge dog lover, but these dogs are actually quite amazing.

One client is a man in a wheelchair who has a wonderful black and white Cockapoo named Oreo. Oreo is a service dog - well-trained, smart, attentive. He adores his owner and would do just about anything for him. He does everything from picking things up for him - including going to get the phone if he falls - to just being a fun, affectionate companion. He is one of the nicest dogs you would ever meet and has the face and temperament of an old soul there to provide you with wisdom and guidance.


Another client is a woman who is an amputee with an adorable Yorkie named Tex. A fifteen pound dog who is convinced he is a big dog, Tex seems to almost swagger when he walks, has silky fur, and does everything for his owner from picking things up for her, hitting her Lifeline button when she falls, grabbing her shoe and putting it on her scooter when it is time to go out, and lately he has taken to curling up to her and putting his head on her shoulder and calming her down when she is anxious. He has the face of an angel and the heart to match.


When Al Franken penned the bill for service dogs for veterans, I was thrilled. Not only are many of them coming back with brain injuries and physical disabilities, but also with a lot of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. According to the New York Times:
Under a bill written by Senator Al Franken, Democrat of Minnesota, veterans with P.T.S.D. will get service dogs as part of a pilot program run by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Training a psychiatric service dog and pairing it with a client costs more than $20,000. The government already helps provide dogs to soldiers who lost their sight or were severely wounded in combat, but had never considered placing dogs for emotional damage.
The bill provides so much for men and women who have suffered from the war. This already confirms something widely known in social services: dogs provide healing, companionship, and courage to so many who are disabled emotionally, mentally, and physically. In a couple of cases cited in the article:
Just weeks after Chris Goehner, 25, an Iraq war veteran, got a dog, he was able to cut in half the dose of anxiety and sleep medications he took for post-traumatic stress disorder. The night terrors and suicidal thoughts that kept him awake for days on end ceased.

Aaron Ellis, 29, another Iraq veteran with the stress disorder, scrapped his medications entirely soon after getting a dog — and set foot in a grocery store for the first time in three years.

The dogs to whom they credit their improved health are not just pets. Rather, they are psychiatric service dogs specially trained to help traumatized veterans leave the battlefield behind as they reintegrate into society.

I am also happy for another client, who, along with a friend, has started the first company in the United States for service dogs for psychiatric disorders: Pet Accolades. Their very first dog is a Springer Spaniel named Kirby. Although there are many dogs trained for the physically disabled, they are working on "providing service dogs for those with invisible disabilities." This will open up service and companion dogs for people who could not get them previously. It's the beginning of something that will help so many.


I am proud of Senator Al Franken. I am proud of my clients with service dogs. But I am especially proud of my client who has taken it upon herself to start a company where there has been a huge void. Her innovation, caring, and creativity will open up many doors for many people. Dog lovers know dogs can be great for you in so many ways, but in the case of service and companion dogs, they go way beyond the call of duty.

No comments: