I had a 20-year United States Air Force career as an airborne linguist and program manager that culminated as an advisor and mentor at the Air Force Academy where I retired as a Chief Master Sergeant. I went on to a second five-year career as an Oracle database professional concentrating in the performance tuning area.
Since 2003, I’ve devoted my life to the assistance dog community, with an emphasis on serving military veterans, especially wounded warriors, to include being a past member of the Veterans Task Force, volunteer, and puppy raiser at a major service dog organization. I wrote and did a podcast about assistance dogs on this site for nine years from March 2009 until April 2018.
Why I No Longer Focus On Service Dogs
While assistance dogs will always be a huge part of my life, honestly, I’ve just lost the drive I had for so many years and am worn out on the whole subject, and I think it’s time to move on to something else. There’s a lot of confusion in the service dog world these days, just like pretty much everywhere else, and it’s evolving in ways I’m not wild about and am disillusioned by, most notably in moving away from serving its traditional constituencies.
Adults with serious physical issues are still the vast majority of the core potential population for service dogs – 92% of the 41 million people in the US with a disability are over 18 according to the American Community Survey conducted annually by the Census Bureau, and it’s almost exactly the same percentage (91%) for the 3 million people with disabilities here in Texas. And yet the majority of service dog placements we see now, in particular from what is by far the largest service dog organization in the country, don’t come close to reflecting those percentages. Nowhere has that disparity been more evident than Texas.
There are a number of reasons people might suggest about why things are like that, but, ultimately, bottom line, that’s an organizational choice – they make those decisions. And if that’s what they want, and their donors and volunteers want as well, so be it. But how am I supposed to support that, much less ask anybody else to? The numbers just don’t add up, and I just couldn’t do it any longer.
And now, on top of these concerns that I’ve had for a number of years, we have things like a brand new National Multiple Sclerosis Society study which says the number of adults with MS in the US is double what they’d thought – almost 1 million versus 400,000+. We don’t know how many, if any, of that additional number may somehow have already been accounted for in the American Community Survey, or how many are good candidates for service dogs, but if it’s even a small percentage, given that we’re talking hundreds of thousands of people versus hundreds of dogs in an already overtaxed environment where I’m convinced we’re already missing a lot of people, this just pours gas on the fire and has the potential to have a major impact.
Now, I get that people make decisions based on emotion, not numbers. No big secret there, and that’s as true in the nonprofit world as anywhere else, maybe more so. But that puts even more pressure on the organizations’ staffs to look at the numbers and get it right – they have to. They have to be professional when nobody else wants to, and do some cold, hard looks and analysis, and make decisions based on that.
If I’m someone in that huge group who fits that description – an adult with serious physical issues – how many service dog places are there that can truly serve my need? Not that many, and we have a responsibility to serve the constituencies out there not just effectively but also efficiently and appropriately.
Organizations have to decide who they want to be – you can’t be all things to all people – and they need to serve their highest need. Just placing more dogs, and in some cases raising and spending millions more dollars to do it, is not enough by itself – there’s got to be a much better match between available resources that are finite and the need that we’re serving.
For me to remain as involved as I’ve been, I’d have to be able to influence the service dog community’s overall direction as well as standards and education, critical needs which remain unmet. And that’s something I simply haven’t been able to do. With that and moving forward in mind, I’ve archived all of the blog and podcast content here.
I recently completed the Graduate Certificate in Nonprofit Management with Emphasis in Fundraising and Philanthropy from the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University and am interested in finding the right place to use all that knowledge and have a meaningful impact on people’s lives.
What’s most important to me is building integrity and leadership, and that has to be the core focus of anything I do.
We relocated to Central Texas from Colorado four years ago and live near the geographic center of the state at the intersection of three major US highways with quick and direct access to the vast majority of the population of Texas and the rest of the US as well.
(Updated March 10, 2019)