Mary Peter and Ron Flaville with K-9 Partners for Patriots, Inc. in Brooksville attended a conference in Washington D.C. last month. Held by the Association of Service Dog Providers for Military Veterans, the meeting took place July 17-20.
Peter and Flaville had several purposes in attending the meeting.
“We wanted to identify service dog issues with other veteran service organizations in order to share ‘best practices’ and come up with solutions to those problems,” Ms. Peter states.
Some of those issues include getting the Veterans Administration (VA) to recognize service dogs for PTSD and providing financial assistance to service organizations for training.
Ms. Peter feels that the conference achieved many of their goals.
“Probably the most important thing accomplished was our trip to Capitol Hill. We were each assigned different members of Congress to visit, both in the House and Senate, to discuss the PAWS (Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers) Act and explain why we need their support for this.”
Republican Congressman Ron DeSantis of Florida sponsored this bill and Republican Congressman Gus Bilirakis was a co-sponsor. Since the meeting in July, the total number of co-sponsors has risen to 187.
Evaluating the qualifications of organizations that have applied for membership in the Association of Service Dog Providers for Veterans was another aim of the conference.
Ms. Peter continues, “This allowed us to see some of the strengths and weaknesses in these organizations and what they could bring to the association.”
Sonny Brooks, Jr. who has suffered from PTSD since serving in the Middle East has had his service dog, AquinoLima for eight months. Aquino, whose name means “strength” in a Filipino dialect, is an Australian Labradoodle and is only sixteen months old.
Like all veterans and their service dogs, Brooks and Aquino went through an intense training course. The two are inseparable and Brooks describes Aquino as “his best friend.”
Although Brooks was not at the conference in July, he spoke about his hopes for what the meeting would accomplish.
“We veterans hope to dilute the stigma that there needs to be a visible problem to have a working/service dog. “
Persons with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder do not display physical characteristics like people who are blind. Often someone will come up to a service dog like Aquino and want to pet him or give him treats. This is a “no-no” and people don’t always understand why. Also, some people will ask invasive questions such as “Why do you have a service dog?”
Brooks continues, “The public needs to be educated about this.”
Another issue that is very important includes working with the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) to clear up loopholes and gray areas in the term “service dogs.”