SERVICE DOGS SAVE LIVES
We have all heard that a dog is man’s best friend, but did you know that a trained service dog can save lives? The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines a service dog as “a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for a person with a disability.” Unfortunately, while over 61 million adults in the United States live with a disability, only 500,000 service dogs are currently helping people. Many obstacles contribute to this discrepancy including the availability of trained service dogs and the high costs of training and care. The Malinois Foundation was founded in 2013 to help reduce these barriers.
The mission of The Malinois Foundation (TheMalinoisFoundation.org) is to make these lifesaving companions available to veterans with emotional and physical needs. They have also expanded to include first responders, women survivors and children with medical needs. In partnership with the for-profit business Dog Training Elite Park City, the foundation provides individuals with a specialized service animal and a new four-legged best friend. Some dogs can assist a person with mental illnesses such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, or anxiety.
There are 4.7 million veterans with service-connected disabilities, and 20-30% of veterans develop symptoms associated with PTSD, including nightmares, heightened anxiety, depressed mood, reactions, flashbacks and social isolation. Individuals with PTSD often feel unsafe and unsure of reality, especially in public settings. Service dogs for PTSD can help ground their handler to reality, prevent people from crowding or rushing up to them and provide the emotional support needed to deescalate anxieties. The bond between handlers and their service dogs has enormous healing power. It is becoming increasingly popular in the mental health and medical communities as one of the options for recovery. Service dogs can help increase activity and integration into society, redirect hyper-vigilance, reduce the length and intensity of night terrors and flashbacks, increase independence, mitigate threats, create a sense of safety, and provide round-the-clock companionship and support.
A veteran, Ryan, found it difficult to accomplish even the simplest tasks due to his PTSD. He said, “I would get severe anxiety just going into public places. Aft er years of therapy and medications, I still found it almost impossible to be around people. My issues caused me to miss out on family events and made it hard to support myself and my loved ones.” His dog, Buck, was trained by The Malinois Foundation to read his temperament and clue in on signs of anxiety and stress. Now Ryan takes his dog Buck with him everywhere. Ryan says, “Buck reassures me in uncontrolled public areas by watching my six. He forms boxes around me to create space between myself in large groups of people and provides deep pressure therapy when I am feeling triggered.” Most people recognize a service dog’s impact on its handler’s life. However, they oft en don’t realize the incredible ripple effect when a service dog helps a loved one regain independence. Because of Buck and The Malinois Foundation, Ryan can regain his connection to his community.
The Malinois Foundation can provide training to the individual’s dog or can help find a dog to be trained. The specific tasks that dogs can perform are endless. Examples include recognizing the signs of a panic attack, waking individuals experiencing night terrors, checking the environment for dangers or triggers for PTSD, and regulating emotional responses through pressure. Accepted applicants receive training fully paid aft er the applicant fundraises the initial $1,500. While $1,500 can be difficult for those in need, it is well below the typical cost of a service dog which can cost upwards of $20,000. Dog Training Elite franchises, including the one in Park City, train the service dogs for The Malinois Foundation. Dog Training Elite is the exclusive trainer for The Malinois Foundation and offers continuous support for the dog’s life.
This franchised national company trains service animals and dogs ready to volunteer in the community as therapy dogs and companions to those with special needs.
Olga, another veteran, touts that her trained service dog, Scout, has helped her reclaim her life. “He’s given me so much of my life back! He’s been to SO many places. Every major league sporting event, including NASCAR. Shooting ranges. And next, Disney World! We can’t imagine life without him. Before having him, I couldn’t even go to the grocery store for milk without prior planning. Th anks to Scout, I can feel confi dent in any environment.” Veterans like Ryan and Olga often feel unsafe and unsure of reality, especially in public settings.
A service dog can guide and help individuals to lead happier, healthier lives. Consider donating to Th e Malinois Foundation because every contribution will assist in the training and placement of these amazing animals.