President Biden signed the PAWS Act into law earlier this month…
The PAWS ACT, or ‘Puppies Assisting Wounded Service members for Veterans Therapy Act,’ authorizes the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to create a pilot program on dog training therapy that will provide dog-training skills and service dogs to veterans with mental illnesses
It is a big day for veterans in need of service dogs now that President Biden has signed into law the PAWs act. On this episode of the podcast, I will discuss what the Act means for America’s veterans, service dogs in general, the impact a law like this has, and my personal take on it. As you know we have been training service dogs for a long time through our Lead Dog Service Dog program here at Alaska Dog Works. We have helped several dozen veterans in training service dogs fort them for PTSD, mobility, and more. While we are excited to see what becomes of this new law, we have a few reservations which I will discuss later in this episode. Note, with or without the PAWS Act we will continue to offer our service dog training programs to veterans and plan to continue to work with a local non-profit organization that has been wonderful in the past to offset the cost of the training so that the veterans can receive one of our dogs at no cost to them. For more information on our services, please visit, Alaska Dog Works and click on the service dog tab.
“This has been a five-year battle to try and convince the federal government that what we do every day is valuable and helps veterans,” Rory Diamond, CEO of K9s for Warriors said to First Coast News. “They’re finally agreeing and we’re getting a big breakthrough here.”
The U.S. Senate unanimously passed the bill earlier this month after it was passed by the House in March.
Diamond said the $10 million dollar, five-year pilot program will take effect on Jan. 1, 2022. For the first time in American history, he says the VA will pay for service dogs for veterans with PTSD.
“We commend the White House for supporting this bill as a critical step in combatting veteran suicide, and we’re confident in the path ahead for Service Dogs ultimately becoming a covered VA benefit to veterans with PTSD,” Diamond said in a news release.
“In communicating with veterans and their healthcare providers, it’s more imperative than ever to embrace the lifesaving impact of a Service Dog and to raise awareness for this treatment option as a proven method for mitigating debilitating symptoms of PTSD and suicidal ideations.”
The news release says the new law will also:
- Designate eligible veterans to receive dog training instruction from nongovernmental accredited 501(c)(3) nonprofit Service Dog training organizations (i.e., K9s For Warriors)
- Allow eligible veterans to learn positive reinforcement training in skills that are unique to their own needs to help address or alleviate their PTSD symptoms
- Provide veterans participating in the program with the opportunity to adopt a dog that they actively assisted in their training, provided that the veteran and their health provider determine it to be in the best interest of the veteran.
“There are over 100,000 veterans, we think who need a service dog because of their post-traumatic stress. Right now, K9s for Warriors can help a couple of hundred a year. What this will do is to take that little tiny hose pipe and turn into a whole avalanche of service dogs, eventually down the road, we’ll see that happen,” Diamond said earlier this month. “Twenty-two veterans a day taking their lives every day by suicide. This is one of the best ways we can fight it.”
The pilot program will involve organizations across America.
Navy veteran John Tappen completed the K9s for Warriors three-week program in April with his new companion, Henry. Tappen says Henry gave him a new lease on life, and saved his life.
“I needed help and I didn’t know where it would come from. I didn’t know what form it would be in. I never thought in a million years a service dog would be the answer,” Tappen told First Coast News.
“We know we are going to be able to save so many more warriors,” Diamond said. “Of course, K9s for Warriors being the largest and best known for doing it, we will be leading the way.”
So here is my professional take. While I think the PAWS Act is great in and of itself, it only is a pilot study and will only involve a few organizations that train dogs. It also will only work with non-profits. While there is nothing wrong with going the non-profit route, we decided years ago to go for a business model that does not rely solely on fundraising and have to answer to a board. In our opinion, we want to make the best use of our time by training dogs for our clients, not asking for money to offset the very expensive training. Sure, much larger companies, than ours may have the resources and staff to oversee fundraising and another team that does the actual training, but what if they do not?President Biden signed the PAWS Act into law earlier this month… The PAWS ACT, or 'Puppies Assisting Wounded Service members for Veterans Therapy Act,' Click To Tweet
Also, we have found that puppy raiser programs rarely work out well. While they can and do provide much-needed early socialization for prospective service dog puppies, the real work begins when you start the advanced training. Many organizations follow a model where they train every dog to fit set parameters for a particular specialty, ie PTSD in the case of the PAWS model. Our company feels that working with the client from the very beginning works wonders over a service dog recipient coming to a week or two long “camp” to learn how to handle their dog. Imagine the bond that can form over the two-year training plan with a service dog and its handler instead of that recipient potentially waiting up to two years for their service dog. A lot can happen with someone with PTSD in those two years. We believe that working together, and with a trainer and the recipient’s family it can produce much better results for everyone, including the dog (which often have about a 75% failure rate anyhow) when they all work through the entire program.
Furthermore, I mentioned that we work with a group that provides financial commitment to veterans in need of a service dog. Much like the organizations that will be a part of the pilot study, we see that when the financial burden is lifted from the veteran, the real work of training AND helping really begins. It is important to note that our program primarily serves veterans in Alaska, where we do have a very large military population with three bases in the state, what we are seeing over the past year or so is a declining demand for service dogs for our servicemen and women. This is a good thing, but it makes me wonder if other programming may become necessary as our military winds down from more than two decades of constant war.
In our professional and humble opinion, I believe that there will still be a need for PTSD service dogs, there are also areas of potential service for our veterans. Programs like the veterans training service dogs for therapy work—a much different type of dog and if you don’t know the difference, I urge you to check out some of our podcast episodes on the differences between service, therapy, emotional support, crisis response dogs, etc. In this therapy dog program, we can have the added benefit of providing programing for our veterans, but they can also use this as a way to “give back” if you will. These dogs may be used for school visits, veterans’ hospitals, at service organizations like the Elks Lodge, VFW’s etc. It is something we are pondering.
The bottom line is that I find this entire issue fascinating and can’t wait for your input on it all. Join the discussion–I will love reading what you have to say.
MEANWHILE, back at camp: Whew, we are back, again, having been gone more in September than we’ve been here it seems. Last weekend, Robert and I were back East in the Lower 48 to go to a music festival and see some of his family while pro trainer, Nicole was here training the camp dogs and meeting with clients. Nicole has been with us for about nine months after taking a few years off from working in the family business. If you did not know, Nicole is our daughter and has been around dogs her entire life. She has worked with clients since she was nine years old (she is 24 now) and helped train a couple of service dogs named Bailey and Brady at that very young age. Bailey was for a veteran that has PTSD. As I have said, we have been doing this a long time… We are also getting ready for another Alaskan winter. Snow came quickly this year with a bit of accumulation just last week. There are always chores to be done and new and current clients to work with. Soon it will be -20 degrees and we will be moving a lot of our private lessons inside. Camps will still go on and the cold weather doesn’t seem to faze the dogs at all.
Just this week Robert and I traveled back from Chicago to Alaska and waiting at the gate was one of the best service dogs in training that we have ever seen. The dog and his handler worked perfectly together, and you could immediately see that they had not only a relationship but the skills in working together and it is a much different scenario than we typically see. In fact, just as we were admiring the skills of this team, we watched a fellow passenger walk down the busy airport thoroughfare with a Malinois-type dog in a muzzle. Yep, a basket muzzle. This wasn’t a police dog or a working dog but a passenger with a rolling suitcase and all.
We fly a lot. Robert has been an MVP Gold member for about a decade, meaning he flies at least 40,000 miles a year on one airline. That is a lot of time spent in airport terminals observing blatant abuse from the flying public who feel the need to take their quote “service dog or emotional support dog” on the plane with them. As you may have heard the airlines are addressing this issue by passing new rules to curb such behavior and this is a topic of several of our podcast’s episodes, but what is relatively new is the airlines are allowing service dogs in training, just like that exceptionally well-trained team I just mentioned, to fly with their dogs in training.
United Airlines, for example, has this policy,
Service dogs in training
United only recognizes service dogs that have been trained and certified. Dog trainers are permitted to bring on board free of charge one service dog that is in training to assist disabled travelers. These service dogs must not occupy a seat. Trainers who are transporting service dogs in the ordinary course of business or service dogs that aren’t in training must check these dogs.
What is not permitted yet and we feel should are therapy dog teams that are allowed to fly in the cabin.
Back to United and their policies: Therapy animals are pets that have been trained and registered by a therapy organization to visit nursing homes, hospitals, schools, and other facilities; they are not considered to be service animals. When traveling with a therapy animal, standard pet-related regulations and restrictions will apply.
As you know these pet-related restrictions mean that the dog flies in cargo or in the cabin with these rules:
We know that pets are important members of your family, but to keep them and other travelers safe, you must follow the rules below:
Requirements for in-cabin pets
- On domestic flights, puppies and kittens must be at least 2 months old. On international flights, puppies and kittens must be at least 4 months old due to rabies vaccination requirements.
- Pets can’t travel with unaccompanied minors.
- If you want to bring aboard an additional pet, you’ll need to buy an extra ticket for that pet and pay an additional $125 each way. Your pet must also always remain in the floor space under the seat.
- If your pet doesn’t fit in a kennel, then they’ll need to travel with our PetSafe® program.
- Pets must travel on the same flights as the traveler responsible for them.
- If there’s an emergency, oxygen service won’t be available for pets.
- There are various state and country entry rules for animals, and it’s up to you to know what they are and to comply with them.
- If you’re traveling internationally, please see the “Hawaii and international travel” section on the United Airlines website. And if you’re traveling to the U.S. from another country, please see the “Health declarations and vaccination requirements for dogs and cats entering the U.S.” on the United Airlines website.
Carriers and kennels
A pet traveling in a cabin must be carried in an approved hard-sided or soft-sided kennel. The kennel must fit completely under the seat in front of you and remain there at all times. The maximum dimensions for hard-sided kennels are 17.5 inches long x 12 inches wide x 7.5 inches high (44 cm x 30 cm x 19 cm). The recommended maximum dimensions for soft-sided kennels are 18 inches long x 11 inches wide x 11 inches high (46 cm x 28 cm x 28 cm). Soft-sided pet carriers can exceed these dimensions slightly because they are collapsible and able to fit underneath a seat without blocking the aisle. Only one pet is allowed in a kennel, and the animal must be able to stand up and turn around comfortably.
Pets in the baggage and cargo compartments, Alaska Airlines has this policy:
Alaska Airlines accepts most small, domesticated pets. Pets that may travel in the climate-controlled baggage and cargo compartments include cats, dogs, ferrets, guinea pigs, hamsters, household birds, non-poisonous reptiles, pot-bellied pigs, rabbits, and tropical fish.
The following regulations apply:
- Dogs and cats must be at least eight weeks of age and weaned.
- No more than 1 live dog or cat, six months of age or older, may be transported in the same kennel.
- No more than 1 live puppy, eight weeks to six months of age, and weighing over 20 lbs, may be transported in the same kennel.
- No more than 2 live puppies or kittens, eight weeks to six months of age, that are of comparable size, and weighing 20 lbs or less each, may be transported in the same kennel.
Animals must be harmless, inoffensive (not destructive to themselves or the kennel), and require no attention during transit.
Learn more about transporting your pet using Pet Connect™ air cargo “This indicates a link to an external site that may not follow the same accessibility or privacy policies as Alaska Airlines. By selecting a partner link you agree to share your data with these sites.”.
Food and water for checked animals
- Regulations require animals traveling as checked baggage to be offered food and water within 4 hours of check-in
- Animals must be offered sufficient food and water to last the entire journey
- Customers with a connection of four or more hours must request access to their animal in the connection city to offer additional food and water
- The customer is responsible to re-check the animal in the connection city and provide the paid receipt when rechecking the animal
- During check-in, you will be asked to complete a Pet Check record to certify your pet has been offered food and water prior to acceptance
Climate-controlled baggage compartment
When you check your pet using this transportation method, you must travel on the same flight(s) to your pet’s destination. Check-in at least 1 hour, but no more than 2 hours before departure. Please note there may be specific check-in requirements at your departure airport. Your pet will be available for pick-up in the baggage claim area approximately 30 minutes after the flight arrives.
If your trip includes a transfer to another flight operated by Alaska Airlines, Horizon Air, or SkyWest Flight Series 3300-3499, we allow a maximum connection time of 4 hours for the animal at the connection city.
Alaska Airlines does not transfer pets to other airlines. If your trip includes a transfer to any other airline, you must allow time to pick up your pet in the baggage claim area and re-check your pet with the connecting airline.
If a delay prevents your pet’s flight from departing, your pet may be placed in a kennel facility until it can be transported. Costs incurred due to weather-related delays are the responsibility of the pet owner. Alaska Airlines will accept a pet and kennel combined weight of up to 150 lbs.
So, guys, what do you think about the PAWS Act and the service and pet dogs on flights? Let us know on our social channels, just search dog works radio.
Do you know the single best thing that you can do for our show is to tell your friends and family about it and maybe show them how to listen? Maybe they will become a rabid listener just like you.