I have been known to tell people that I work in the legal field by day but that I am an animal welfare advocate always. I have a paying job like most folks, but my passion is related to helping animals and helping the people who help animals. I am also an Army veteran so I tend to be a bit direct in how I write and talk and I tend to be pretty outspoken. Your tax dollars at work. The good thing about this combo of former GI Jane + paralegal + animal advocate is that the knowledge I have from all of these aspects of my life tends to come in handy together. It also means that I have strong opinions about how we spend our tax dollars and about we support our armed forces. Regardless of your political leanings, I want you to “hate war. Love the American warrior,” as was once so eloquently stated by Lieutenant General Hal Moore.
I never served in combat and never got even close. I did a very unpleasant tour in South Korea once upon a time. I was stationed in Germany when Gulf 1 happened (while people around me were deployed) and I got out of the Army as issues in Bosnia were heating up and shortly after a Yugoslavian neighbor asked me how to get body armor and helmets on the black market. I served in a lot of places and did a lot of crazy things for God and Country, but my life was never at risk and I suffered no long-term effects from my service other than a compulsive need to keep things organized and a disdain for camping.
Many of our veterans are not so fortunate and the sad reality is that many of them are really just invisible to us when you get right down to it. I know that it is human nature to focus on those issues which are on our personal radar. Unless something has affected us personally in some way, we may say we think about it or care about it, but the reality is that we only have a passing awareness at best. Such is the case with our veterans who suffer from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) due to their service, combat or otherwise.
It is not news to anyone paying attention in any limited way that a large number of our veterans now suffer from wounds which we may not see but which are very, very real. It is also not news that we had, and still have, issues with the Department of Veteran’s Affairs regarding how veterans are treated and how quickly they are treated. It is a public shame that we ask so much of the members of our armed forces while paying them so little and then failing to live up to our obligations as a society when their service leaves them unable to function on a day-to-day basis. If you heard about the recent 22 Push-Up Challenge to raise awareness, you now know that 22 of our veterans commit suicide every day. Every. Day.
I believe there is hope on the horizon and this is a topic where my background and my interests intersect: the topic of using dogs to help veterans with PTSD and TBI and use of shelter dogs in particular. I don’t know very much about how the VA spends your money and my money, but I do know this. If someone took a vote, I would immediately say yes to putting my tax dollars toward government funded grant programs to help pair our veterans in need with the canine companions who can help them in ways that counseling, pharmaceutical assistance and even their loved ones cannot.
We’ve all heard of programs that use service dogs to help people who are visually or physically impaired. I first heard of a program which pairs veterans with PTSD and TBI about a year ago when we watched an A&E Series called Dogs of War which highlighted the work of a nonprofit group called Paws and Stripes which is based in New Mexico. The series covered the work of the nonprofit in finding shelter dogs who are suited to be service dogs for veterans and how the nonprofit trains those dogs (and the veterans) to be paired teams. The series was fascinating to me and I am not ashamed to admit that I cried during every episode. I cried because of the problems faced by the men and women helped by Paws and Stripes. I cried for the dogs pulled from kill shelters to become service dogs. And I cried knowing how very many more veterans and dogs could be helped through similar programs. For me, this is a win, win, win. We help the veteran, we save the life of a dog and we prevent taxpayer dollars from being used to kill perfectly healthy dogs in our animal shelters.
I have since learned there are a number of nonprofit groups much like Paws and Stripes across the county who are doing wonderful work. One such group launched recently in my own area and is called, quite appropriately, “Got Your Six.” The organization is led by a contact of mine named Laurel Rose whom I met in my no kill adventures and to whom I have referred many a contact for “dog issues” which are more often than not really issues with people who do not speak dog. Laurel’s organization is set up to help veterans who already have a dog (in the event that dog can be trained as a service dog), but she also works with local animal shelters and rescue groups to get dogs who are well-suited to the type of service and companionship which helps veterans. I could not be more thrilled about having this new group in our military town of Huntsville, Alabama.
I hope a day comes when more of our veterans are helped with service dogs and that the primary source of those dogs is our animal shelters. If you’d like to learn more about efforts to enact legislation to federally fund a VA program to place service dogs with our veterans, I encourage you to learn about the P.A.W.S. Act (Puppies Assisting Wouded Servicemembers) being advanced by Corporal Cole Lyle, a Marine Corps veteran. If you’d like to learn more about programs in your area or state to pair veterans with PTSD and TBI with service dogs, contact your local veteran’s advocacy organization or check this list found on the Paws and Stripes website.
Let's all get behind these programs which help our veterans and which save our dogs in the process. We're Americans. And this should be important to all of us.
(images courtesy of the United States Army and Paws and Stripes, Inc.)
I am an animal welfare advocate. My goal is to help people understand some basic issues related to companion animals in America. Awareness leads to education leads to action leads to change.
image courtesy of Terrah Johnson