January 6, 2011
The Humane Society of the United States Applauds Rep. Grimm for Seeking to Help Veterans and Shelter Dogs
WASHINGTON, D.C.—The Humane Society of the United States commends U.S. Rep. Michael Grimm, R-N.Y., for introducing the Veterans Dog Training Therapy Act on the first day of the 112th Congress.
With the support of original cosponsors Reps. Michael Michaud, D-Maine, Peter King, R-N.Y., and Leonard Lance, R-N.J., H.R. 198 would create a pilot program for training dogs to help treat veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder or other post-deployment mental health conditions. The bill was crafted so that the program will use the dog training process itself to provide therapeutic benefits, as veterans train them for use as service animals for their disabled comrades. Another feature of the bill that has brought praise from the animal welfare community is that it will allow shelter dogs to be rescued so they can be part of the program.
In May, the House passed H.R. 3885, a similar bill directing the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to create a pilot program using dogs for therapy, but that legislation did not pass the Senate and did not include the shelter dog provision. This new aspect of the legislation is not only good news for homeless dogs who might otherwise be euthanized, but it also has the potential to bring a more fiscally sound approach to the program and save tax dollars, as purpose-bred dogs cost as much as $50,000 per animal.
“This bill is about veterans helping veterans,” said Rep. Grimm. “So many servicemen and women returning from combat struggle with severe PTSD. My legislation provides an opportunity to ease these symptoms through the process of training service dogs. These dogs—many of which I hope will be saved from shelters—will then be given to physically disabled veterans to assist them with their daily activities. As a veteran and animal lover, I am proud to make this my first bill in Congress.”
Injured soldiers returning from the war often experience a profound lack of purpose and focus. Skills necessary to survive in a war zone can become a hindrance when transitioning back into everyday life. Studies show an increase in suicide and domestic violence among returning soldiers as a result of unaddressed emotional stress and guilt. Giving former soldiers this worthy goal and new companion could be a life-saving plan for thousands of U.S. veterans.
“Our veterans need and deserve every opportunity to heal. This innovative legislation gives the wonderful dogs in shelters a chance to live and to serve by helping to heal the stresses and wounds so many soldiers battle when they come home,” said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The HSUS.
More localized programs have already demonstrated the powerful benefits of dog training for veterans. Celebrity dog trainer Tamar Geller created Operation Heroes & Hounds™ to aid wounded Marines at Camp Pendleton, Calif. In her program, homeless dogs are used to teach wounded military personal new skills, provide companionship, and enhance the healing process.
Washington Humane Society’s “Dog Tags” program brings together wounded soldiers recovering at Walter Reed Army Medical Center with homeless dogs from WHS’s shelter. This three-tiered program teaches the basics of dog training, with a certificate-based educational curriculum that gives returning servicemen the opportunity to pursue a career in the field of animal training, care, and welfare. In the process of gaining skills for themselves, participants provide the homeless animals with training, socialization, and love, which will undoubtedly increase their chances for adoption and help to ensure that they stay in life-long, loving homes.
The Veterans Dog Training Therapy Act would assist our wounded warriors who suffer from both physical and psychological ailments as a result of their service in war zones. Smart and loving homeless dogs, who were in danger of euthanasia, will have the honor of assisting these heroes integrate back into society. Together, they can heal their emotional wounds while gaining new life skills.
In the last session of Congress, Sens. Al Franken, D-Minn., and Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., and Reps. Ron Klein, D-Fla., and Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., championed provisions in the 2009 Defense authorization bill instructing the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to partner with nonprofit organizations on a three-year pilot study of the use of service dogs to treat and rehabilitate wounded veterans, including those suffering from PTSD.
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The Humane Society of the United States is the nation’s largest animal protection organization—backed by 11 million Americans, or one of every 28. For more than a half-century, The HSUS has been fighting for the protection of all animals through advocacy, education, and hands-on programs. Celebrating animals and confronting cruelty—on the web at humanesociety.org.