NORTH TONAWANDA, N.Y. (WKBW) — A bipartisan vote has lead congress to unleash service dogs to veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers for Veterans Therapy Act of 2021, also known as the Paws Act will require the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to create a program for veterans with PTSD or military sexual trauma (MST), to connect a veteran with service dogs.
Representative Tom Reed said, "Anything we can do to save a veteran life is something I am interested in doing."
The Paws Act is a result of an analysis of veteran suicide, published by the Department of Veterans Affairs, in 2016.
An average of 20 veterans died by suicide each day, in 2014. Four members of congress from Western New York are co-sponsors of this bill, including Congressman Tom Reed.
"I will just tell you from first-hand experience that spending time with our wounded warriors who have access to dogs-- their quality of life has immensely improved," he said. "They just bond with these animals, and they become friends. The animals become that extra layer of support to help our veterans through some difficult times."
The bill is designed to pair a service dog with a veteran.
"It's two dogs total. So, they have one dog that's their service dog that will last eight to 12 years, and then you replace that dog," Haji Shareef said.
The pilot program will include training the service dog, training the veteran with the service dog and follow-up services, all allotting to roughly $25,000 dollars.
"The limiting fact for most people is the fact that they can't afford to get a dog that's trained and a lot of people who are suffering from PTSD don't have the patients to fully train their own dog," Shareef explained.
Haji Shareef is the founder of Musketeer Canine LLC and PTSDogs 4 Vets.
Prior to the bill's creation, he has been paying out-of-pocket to ensure veterans in the community have a trained dog to help handlers with PTSD.
"For my own personal organization, we have use sport dogs that are either Weimaraners, Vizslas or pointers or a crossbreed there of. We have our own purposed breeding plan. So, we breed the dogs that have the right personality to make service dogs. Currently, we have three puppies that are on their way to being ready," Shareef said.
A veteran himself, Shareef began working with trained dogs for bomb and drug detection, after joining the Navy reserve.
"Unfortunately, I had three friends who had post-war issues, and they are no longer with us. They were waiting on a dog and the three of them fell victim to suicide as many have. Because of that, I stopped training dogs for a bomb and drug detection, and I have focused solely on providing dogs to deal with PTSD."
Since then, the 21-year Navy veteran has spent the last 12 years as a certified dog trainer to help his fellow veterans in need.
"It's almost impossible for anyone who has lived a pure civilian life to understand the experiences that a veteran has gone through in war. Strangely enough, anyone who has had a dog that was closely bonded to them will always tell you that the dog reads your emotions better than how you read your own emotions," Shareef said.
With this bill, Shareef hopes to expand his efforts in helping a veteran receive the emotional support dog they need.
"That would allow me to be able to hire other trainers and be able to put more dogs through to produce more dogs for more people," Shareef added. "My own personal opinion is whether or not we get approved or not, we will continue to produce dogs."
The president signed the bill into law in August.
This now authorizes the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to establish a pilot program that requires the agency to setup how the program is going to work and which wounded warriors will qualify.
Learning how to interact with someone who has a PTSD service dog is important to understand. Click here to learn how to do so.
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