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Service dogs and “disarming”

There are two very interesting dog items in the news this morning.  First, new U.S. Senator Al Franken (yes, the former Saturday Night Live comedian) has introduced a bill that would provide service dogs to veterans wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan.  There’s been an experimental Veterans Administration program with dogs helping vets with PTSD and depression and now Sen. Franken would like to take the program live so it can help all Iraq and Afghanistan vets who need dogs.

Research with the VA is showing that specially trained dogs can help psychologically wounded veterans.

The dogs’ companionship, Franken said, provides invaluable health benefits — both physical and emotional — to veterans suffering from debilitating injuries and psychological disorders.

The service dogs will help “reduce the suicide rate among veterans, decrease the number of hospitalizations and lower the cost of medications and human care,” he said.

That sounds wonderful!  However, the program would only provide service dogs to new vets.  It would not provide dogs to older vets — vets who experienced PTSD or depression from previous conflicts.

The Daily Kos blog would like to have the legislation expanded to provide a service dog to any veteran who needs one:

So I ask you to support this great idea, but help veterans of all eras in having Senator Franken’s noble proposal expanded to include all veterans alive who are wounded in the spirit.  If this seems to be a good idea to you, please support Senator Franken but let him know that there are more US combat veterans than just from the two most recent wars that could use his help.

Senator Al Franken

Democrat – Minnesota

320 HART SENATE OFFICE BUILDING

WASHINGTON DC 20510

DC Phone: 202-224-5641

E-mail: info@franken.senate.gov

Brian Vander Brug / Los Angeles Times How had the 35-pound bouncing ball of fluff become a public menace? Krieger says it wasn't apathy on her part. She enrolled Cotton in puppy classes and basic training at the neighborhood PetSmart. She bought a library of self-help books and videos. Nothing worked.

Brian Vander Brug / Los Angeles Times How had the 35-pound bouncing ball of fluff become a public menace? Krieger says it wasn't apathy on her part. She enrolled Cotton in puppy classes and basic training at the neighborhood PetSmart. She bought a library of self-help books and videos. Nothing worked.

There’s another interesting story today in the L.A. Times:  “When “Dog Whisperer” Can’t Help” by Diane R. Krieger.  Ms. Krieger describes her dog Cotton, an American Eskimo dog, who had a serious problem with biting.  The Kriegers had tried everything — classes, muzzles, even appearing on Cesar Millan’s television program and working with private trainers.  Cotton was still a biter and a dangerous dog who would try to bite anyone who came on their property.  The Kriegers were at the point where they were considering having Cotton put to sleep.  That’s when Ms. Krieger heard about a procedure — a controversial procedure — called “disarming.”

Here’s the description:

One day while channel surfing, I happened upon an Animal Planet special counting down the world’s top 10 “extreme biters.” The domesticated dog came in at No. 4. (Hippos and Komodo dragons took the No. 3 and No. 2 spots, with the cookie-cutter shark the undisputed champion.) There, to my delight, was Dr. David Nielsen, a veterinary dentist based in Manhattan Beach, talking about a miracle fix: “canine disarming.”

Instead of extracting the four canines, Nielsen cuts away 4 millimeters of tooth using a CO2 laser. He acid-etches the live pulp within, fashions a bell-shaped cavity that he packs with two kinds of human-grade composite, and light-cures the top for a smooth, flat finish. He also blunts the extra set of pointy incisors.

Disarming isn’t a new idea, but Nielsen’s technique is one he pioneered, though he shares credit with his now-departed pet whippet. The small greyhound had “played Frisbee so much and chewed so hard trying to get out of cages” that he’d busted off all four canines right above the 4-millimeter level, Nielsen says. One day the whippet cornered a technician in Nielsen’s office and flew at her face. Instead of tearing flesh, he merely pinched her cheek. The blunted canines blocked even the incisors from their shearing action.

A metaphorical light bulb came on above Nielsen’s head.Now he figures he has disarmed some 300 animals in the last dozen years, not all of them dogs. A short while ago, he treated a kitty whose love bites had turned a little too intense. He’s also used the procedure, for various reasons, on wolves and a tiger.

Nielsen may be something of a maverick. Dr. Gail Golab, head of the American Veterinary Medical Assn., says that disarming dogs was once fairly common, but that it fell out of favor several years ago as behavioral modification techniques improved. The association is opposed to either tooth removal or disarming, primarily on the grounds that neither addresses the underlying cause of aggression and may lull owners into a false confidence that the animal can no longer inflict injury.

The American Veterinary Dental College agrees that disarming is controversial, but in a position statement adopted in 2005 it endorsed the procedure in “selected cases.”

In June, I signed Cotton up. It would cost a pretty penny: $1,600. But it’s easy to see why. Nielsen uses state-of-the-art human dental and surgical techniques. Cotton would be sedated before full intubation under general anesthesia. He would receive an IV drip of fluid potassium, and technicians would hook him up to a battery of machines monitoring his oxygen level, heart rate and blood pressure. The doctor would consult digital X-rays taken just before the procedure and track his progress with more X-rays along the way. Cotton would get deep scaling before the procedure and a foamy fluoride treatment after. And he would go home with enough antibiotics and pain relievers to last a week. Once he recovered from the surgery, there would be no lasting side effects: Cotton would be able to eat, chew and play normally.

For all the technology, Nielsen says the most profound effect of canine disarming is psychological. “You can see it in their eyes almost the moment they wake up from the anesthesia,” he says. “It’s like they’re wondering, ‘who took away my knives?’ ” An epiphany that humbles and subdues them for all time. The Bumble from “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” comes to mind. Remember how sweet the ferocious yeti becomes after Hermey, the misfit elf-turned-dentist, does his handiwork?

Cotton was successfully “disarmed.”  Now when he tries to bite things he only succeeds in barely scratching them.  But, as you can see, this is a controversial — and expensive — procedure.  Disarming is only used in very selective cases.  It’s always best to try to address the reasons why a dog is biting and to try to train the dog to quit the biting.  But, when faced with either putting the dog to sleep or finding another solution, disarming can offer an owner a way to save the dog.

July 27, 2009 Posted by | dogs, Pets | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dogs Aiding Wounded GIs

Dogs Aiding Wounded GIs

June 29, 2009

Associated Press

11dogs_650FORT CARSON, Colo. – Army Specialist Cameron Briggs washes down a cocktail of prescription drugs every day for post-traumatic stress disorder and a brain injury he suffered when four roadside bombs rocked his Humvee in Iraq.

Tramadol for pain. Midrin for debilitating headaches. Minipress to suppress nightmares. Klonopin to control anger and anxiety.

His next dose of treatment will come from an unlikely source: a purebred Golden Retriever.

A new Veterans Administration program adopts dogs from animal shelters, trains them and matches them with wounded warriors home from Iraq and Afghanistan to help with their recovery.

For Briggs, his dog will be trained to help him find his wallet, cell phone and keys, which he habitually loses because of cognitive memory loss. The dog also will brace Briggs, who has an ankle injury, so he doesn’t have to use a cane or walker in public.

“I call him my little battle buddy,” the 24-year-old Briggs said as he strapped his old camouflage assault vest onto Harper. It’s modified to store biscuits and toys instead of ammunition. “I most definitely think he’ll help me transfer back to civilian life.”

VA hospitals nationwide are integrating service dogs into treatment plans for disabled vets, said Will Baldwin, a vocational rehabilitation counselor for the VA in Denver. The program was formed after Freedom Service Dogs, a Denver-based nonprofit, recently partnered with the VA.

Training takes up to nine months and costs $23,000. Service Dogs doesn’t charge its clients but relies on private donations and foundation grants.

“The population is growing exponentially down in Fort Carson with the Wounded Warriors program,” said Freedom Service Dogs’ Diane Vertovec, referring to the Army unit that prepares wounded Soldiers for civilian life. “We feel like a dog can help a vet meet physical challenges but, more importantly, can really, really help them overcome a lot of the mental instability that they’re feeling.”

Service Dogs can train 43 dogs per year – a number that doesn’t come close to meeting demand. There are about 450 Soldiers in the Wounded Warrior Battalion at Fort Carson.

David Watson, a 43-year-old Gulf War veteran who lives in Strasburg, about 40 miles east of Denver, gets out of bed every morning with the help of Summer, a trained yellow lab. Watson’s knees were injured in the war, and daily tasks are painful.

Baldwin suggested Watson get a service dog so he also could take better care of his wife, Trish, a Navy veteran who has multiple sclerosis and uses a wheelchair.

“The relationship is just one big circle. We just keep helping each other out,” said Watson. “If I can’t roll over or get out of bed, (Summer) will have a little toy that she uses and she’ll pull me up. It’s a tug-of-war game for her.”

“Get shoe, Summer!” Watson commands. Summer drops them at his bedside so he can slip them on without bending.

Summer also helps Watson navigate a world that doesn’t always accommodate his disabilities.

“Uneven ground – she will notice that before I do and she will either nudge me over or step in front of me so I don’t trip,” Watson said.

Key, an 8-month-old mixed black Labrador puppy, is being trained to open and close doors, get food from the fridge, alert bark, pick up keys and other items and brace to provide support.

Key’s biggest service might be to “just snug up to a person in bed, which sometimes is very comforting, especially for someone that might have PTSD,” said head trainer Patti Yoensky. “Just knowing that the dog’s there helps the person feel more confident, feel that they’re not alone.”

At Fort Carson, Briggs hopes that Harper will help him adjust. “I don’t like large crowds of people,” Briggs said, alluding to a PTSD symptom. “I get really fidgety and I just hate it. So anytime a stranger comes into your personal bubble, the dog will always stand between you and the stranger.”

Stephanie Baigent, manager of dog training at Service Dogs, believes that Harper can give Briggs something “unconditional that a lot of us can’t give, because no matter what we hear about Cameron or his experiences, we can’t fully understand.

“Harper doesn’t have to understand. He just loves Cameron because he’s Cameron,” she said.

June 30, 2009 Posted by | dogs, Pets | , , , | Leave a comment