K-9 Courage Program will pair shelter dogs with injured veterans - Baltimore Post-ExaminerBaltimore Post-Examiner

K-9 Courage Program will pair shelter dogs with injured veterans

Since the dawn of human history, man and his amicable canine companions have enjoyed a mutually beneficial relationship. Dogs have followed men everywhere, including the front lines of battle, serving their masters fearlessly – even unto death.

Understanding the core connections which create that special bond, a new pilot program is currently underway in Baltimore, which will pair specially trained rescue shelter dogs with military veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress (PTS) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).

August O’Neill is kissed by his service dog, Kai, April 9, 2014, during the cycling portion of the Air Force Trials at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. (Wikimedia)

The new program, which is being executed under the umbrella of American Humane’s K-9 Courage Program, affords dogs that might otherwise face a grim end a second chance at life.

The effort is unique in that, while service dogs have traditionally been bred to capitalize on specific skill sets, the new program will build on what the shelter dogs naturally bring to the table.

“Every day, an average of 20 American veterans commit suicide, while an estimated 670,000 dogs are euthanized in U.S. animal shelters each year,” said President and CEO of American Humane, Dr. Robin Ganzert. “American Humane is thrilled to launch this program to help save lives on both ends of the leash.”

“The K-9 Courage Program is one that helps provide healthcare to retired military and service dogs for veterans,” said Mark Stubis – Chief Communications Officer at American Humane.

“We’ve been working to support and protect the human and non-human members of the U.S. military for more than 100 years, since American Humane went overseas in World War I to rescue and treat some 68,000 horses a month on the battlefields of Europe. Since then, we’ve worked to champion the use of animal-assisted therapy to help veterans and their families.

Arline is one of the rescue shelter dogs now being trained in Baltimore for service with the K-9 Courage Program.

Stubis said American Humane successfully secured federal legislation to bring home retired military dogs after their service overseas. The group also helps provide healthcare to retired military and veterans’ service dogs, reunites military dog teams, and is currently developing national standards for the training of service dogs for those with PTS or TBI.

Along with leading the blind, listening for the hearing impaired or just being a calming presence, service dogs may be needed to do such seemingly mundane tasks as opening a refrigerator door or turning on a light. Service dogs offer life-changing – and in many cases lifesaving – support to affected veterans. Unfortunately, several hurdles must be jumped before the placement of a dog can be arranged.

Waiting lists are long, and the training process is time-consuming and expensive, costing upwards of $20,000 per dog. The good news is, American Humane’s new canine training center will provide specialized PTS and TBI service dogs to injured veterans at no cost to the recipient.

“This is a marvelous program”, said nationally renowned veterinarian, Dr. Jeff Werber. “These dogs are being given a purpose and home while at the same time helping susceptible individuals who are going through difficult times.”

Dr. Werber is in Baltimore to talk about the new rescue dog program as part of a canine care tour he is engaged in with animal health company Zoetis. The heath care tour is geared toward getting pet owners to test their dogs for allergies. Completion of an “Itch Instinct” online quiz will trigger a donation made by Zoetis to expand the number of recipients in the K-9 Courage Program.

Dr. Jeff Werber

“Dogs suffer from allergies all year round, but they’re most susceptible in the spring time. And unlike humans and other animals, they don’t respond to antihistamines. We want people to know that that itch can be a sign of something more serious. When the itch turns into lesions on the skin or affects the dog’s behavior, that is something to be reckoned with. Over the counter remedies may prove ineffective and traditional drugs have side effects so owners should connect with their veterinarian if their dog has an itch problem.  We really want people to take the quiz. It will help aid the service men and women in the K-9 Courage Program and also make them a better-informed dog owner.”

Dr. Werber noted that the standard picture of a service dog – the keen German Shepherd or the sturdy Labrador Retriever – has given way in recent years to a potpourri of “mutts” eager to fulfill a wide assortment of tasks.

“What we find is there is so much talent in these shelter dogs, but sadly, depending on the municipality, the life of these animals may be cut short. Not because of behavior issues or anything like that, but because of space and purpose. So now, to be able to give these dogs purpose in such a way is a phenomenal program. It’s interesting – now many of the dogs which are being used to help the hearing impaired are shelter dogs. There is no need to breed more dogs when we already have the solution right under our noses filling up our shelters.

“You know, when it comes to the relationship between a person and a dog, the size of the dog is not an issue. Some of these veterans aren’t so in need that they are confined to a wheelchair. Sometimes all they need is a companion, and there are many dogs in the shelters who can provide that.”

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Three more shelter dogs being trained in Baltimore

A K-9 Courage shelter being trained in Baltimore.dog

Louie is A K-9 Courage shelter being trained in Baltimore.

Zoe is a K-9 Courage shelter being trained in Baltimore.

About the author

Anthony C. Hayes

Anthony C. Hayes is an actor, author, raconteur, rapscallion and bon vivant. A one-time newsboy for the Evening Sun and professional presence at the Washington Herald, Tony's poetry, photography, humor, and prose have also been featured in Smile, Hon, You're in Baltimore!, Destination Maryland, Magic Octopus Magazine, Los Angeles Post-Examiner, Voice of Baltimore, SmartCEO, Alvarez Fiction, and Tales of Blood and Roses. If you notice that his work has been purloined, please let him know. As the Good Book says, "Thou shalt not steal." Contact the author.

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