Saturday, September 24, 2016

Survey reveals need for policies addressing obstacles for veterans with service dogs

American Humane, the country's first national humane organization, has released the findings of a new survey of U.S. retail employees measuring their experiences with, and perceptions of, customers with Post-Traumatic Stress (PTS) service dogs.

Harnessing the healing powers of the human-animal bond, specially trained PTS service dogs can offer vital and often lifesaving support to the estimated 14 percent of our nation's service members and veterans who suffer from combat-related PTS.

However, though many people rely on these animals every day, there are currently no national standards or accepted best practices for the definition, training, and credentialing of PTS service dogs—a void that creates obstacles for PTS veterans seeking access and reasonable accommodations for their service dogs in public places of business.

American Humane commissioned the new survey to gain further insight into the factors causing discrimination against veterans with PTS service dogs in retail venues, such as restaurants and shopping malls.

The survey results suggest employees are ill-informed and unprepared to accommodate the unique needs of customers with PTS service dogs. Employees also question the credibility of people claiming their animal is a service dog, especially when those customers have no visible disabilities, as with many PTS veterans.

The publication of the survey findings coincides with the national gathering of professionals, hosted by American Humane in Washington, to address the lack of consistent national standards regulating the training and use of PTS service dogs.

A diverse group of leaders—with backgrounds spanning service dog training, government affairs, veteran advocacy, mental health services, and the transportation and restaurant industries, among others—attended the event with the shared goal of defining actionable next steps in developing national service dog standards.

Insights from American Humane's new survey of retail employees helped inform discussions, with leaders meeting for a collaborative program emphasizing break-out groups and candid conversations across industry lines about collective strategies to improve access for veterans in public spaces.

Retired U.S. Marine Corps Captain Jason Haag, the national director of the Lois Pope LIFE Center for Military Affairs at American Humane, issued the following statement about the event:

“I credit my specially trained PTS service dog, Axel, with saving my life. He offers me vital support every day, and his presence is especially important when I'm in crowded and high-stress public environments. As a customer, I encounter regular scrutiny and questioning from employees, and, like many of my fellow veterans, I've been illegally denied service because of Axel.

Our new survey suggests that low public awareness and a lack of basic employee training are contributing to this discrimination against veterans and PTS service dogs. American Humane is proud to lead ambitious new efforts, starting with our convening today in the nation's capital, to address these issues and establish national standards to improve access for veterans and their PTS service dogs, like me and Axel, in public spaces.”

Image via PRNewsFoto/American Humane

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