By Lauren Lewis –
August 9, 2018
Air Force veteran Eric Pina with his family which now includes his service dog, Loki. Photos from Dogs of Service.
With so much negative attention focused on service animals as of late, WAN is thrilled to acknowledge International Assistance Dog Week by featuring a unique and much-needed non-profit organization dedicated to providing service dogs and emotional support animals that have been rescued to help military veterans.
International Assistance Dog Week, which was created to recognize all the devoted, hardworking assistance dogs helping individuals mitigate their disability related limitations, began on August 5th and runs through August 11th.
Fortunately, Los Angeles-based Dogs of Service makes rescue dogs and veterans in need, a priority every day, as it works to maintain a community of support and resources for all military members and their animals.
“We chose to focus on veterans because there was a great need for innovative solutions to help veterans dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injuries. Sadly, the average suicide rate of veterans is 22 per day. Veterans and dogs can find a mutual understanding and provide a sense of comfort other humans can’t, and that relationship can be used to bridge further healing and treatment,” Dogs of Service Founder Saralyn Tartaglia told WAN. Further explaining that it is important that the organization, which is authorized to pull animals from city shelters, only pairs veterans with dogs who have been rescued from shelters.
“We love the unspoken understanding and bond that happens when a veteran meets a rescue dog, it’s amazing. We were inspired by the ability of rescue dogs to sense emotions and be compassionate,” continued Tartaglia. “I started this organization because veterans have made many sacrifices, so this is our way to give back to them.”
Most recently, Dogs of Service paired Air Force veteran Eric Pina, who suffers from PTSD, with a new service dog that will be trained to help him. As per Tartaglia, a service dog can provide support and comfort to help its person push through difficult situations to make progress.
“The dogs we were looking at for Eric and his family just were not working out; then this puppy walked into the shelter on her own and literally checked herself in. After a meeting, it was clear she was the dog for them. She was even playing with lil Eric,” Dogs of Service posted on its Facebook page noting they will train the dog, now named Loki, to be a PTSD service dog for Eric.
“Dogs of Service connected me with not only a service dog but a loyal friend that has become my family,” shared Pena.
Having to care for a dog also gives many people a sense of purpose that enables them to “get up every morning to be part of the world,” said Tartaglia who shared that the routine the dog sets can also be helpful to maintain a healthy and consistent lifestyle.
“On the downside, because of all the negative attention and lack of knowledge about service dogs and emotional support animals, it has become a struggle for many veterans to go out in public or travel with their dog,” Tartaglia told WAN. “Veterans are being pressed for details about their dogs, bullied out of housing, being forced to adhere to illegal requirements, and having to deal with untrained fake service dogs in public spaces that may put real service dogs and their handlers at risk.
The American Disabilities Act (ADA) has defined a service dog as one that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability. The tasks performed by the dog must be directly related to the person’s disability.
ADA guidelines in regard to service dogs are written loosely to enable all people to have access to a service dog: it does not discriminate in regard to “finances, location, type of disability, and access to urban areas.
It is important to note, as per Tartaglia, that many people do not understand that the ADA only covers public spaces; it does not cover housing, airports, trains and flights.
Tartaglia also encourages people to be wary of any online registry offering service dog certification and ID Cards, because service dogs and emotional support animals do not need to be registered or certified in any way.
“Having a service dog is a choice to be made with medical and care providers, it is a big responsibility and undertaking, but for some people, it can be life-changing,” continued Tartaglia, noting that service dog costs can range anywhere from $5000.00 to $25,000.00 with owner trained service dogs being on the low-end.
Dogs of Service currently offers weekly service dog training classes in Sherman Oaks, California, and is looking to expand into the Santa Clarita Valley, and possibly the South Bay, with more classes in 2019.
The classes are designed to teach dogs the vital socialization skills they need while also allowing veterans to connect and interact with each other.
Dogs of Service has an application process so that they can figure out what the veteran needs and find a dog that is the best fit for them and their life.
Tartaglia also often helps veterans navigate the legal side, as well as ensuring that they can have dogs in their residences and assisting them with travel guidelines. To ensure a good pairing, Dogs of Service works with behaviorists and trainers for training to ensure that the veterans can learn how best to work with their dogs.
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