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.
Starting in 2003, I 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.
While service dogs will always be a huge part of my life, honestly, my heart’s just not in it anymore. Some of it is just the normal changes in interest you go through in life, but the biggest reason is because over time I’ve become disillusioned with the service dog community. There’s a lot of confusion in the service dog world these days, just like pretty much everywhere else, and I believe the community has gotten off track and needs to reassess its overall direction.
I don’t question for a second that the dogs are doing wonderful things, all day, every day, for everybody who has one. But the real key question is: Are we serving the right people with the right dogs in the right way?
Adults with serious physical issues are still the vast majority of the core potential population for service dogs, and that group is only getting larger daily. I’ve strongly believed that for years and said so here, but I was completely shocked when I finally looked up the numbers – they’re overwhelming.
As I write this in April 2019, 92% of the 41 million people in the US with a disability are over 18 according to the annual American Community Survey from the Census Bureau, up from 90% of 39 million a year ago. The percentages are the same for the 3 million people with disabilities here in Texas.
On top of that, we have 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+.
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.
Why is that? People could give you a lot of reasons, but, ultimately, bottom line, that’s an organizational choice – they make those decisions. And if that’s what they want, and their thousands of donors and volunteers want as well, so be it – that’s the beauty of nonprofits. 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.
You can’t be all things to all people – organizations have to decide who they want to be, and they have a responsibility to serve their highest level of 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.
I can’t justify the amount of time, effort, and money (and blood, sweat, and tears) for the output on the other end. Something has to give – there’s either got to be a better result for all that effort, or we need to expend less effort to get to where we are now.
For me to remain as involved as I’ve been in the past, 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 archived all of the blog and podcast content here in May 2018.
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.