Association of Service Dog Providers for Military Veterans member and teams on Capitol Hill promoting the PAWS Act.

Association of Service Dog Providers for Military Veterans members and teams on Capitol Hill promoting the PAWS Act earlier this week.

I’m going to try something different this week (and maybe from now on), and post a complete transcript of the podcast.

Transcript

Hi, and welcome to Episode 29 of the Dog Chief podcast. I’m Al Brittain, and, as always, the links for anything we talk about today will be at my site albrittain.com or dogchief.com .

I want to talk about one thing today that I haven’t… I didn’t really talk about before. I spent a lot of time talking about the PAWS Act, but one of the big things I had in the back of my mind to address at some point in the future, and I guess we’re here now, is what to expect if this thing passes, you know, to go through the considerations there and exactly where I think that’s going to end up. And I think I know exactly where it’s going to end up and I’ll explain that as we go further along, but I want to talk about, you know, how I got there, and just when you look at everything, that to me is how it adds up.

I want to say up front I’m not down on the bill. I mean, I think in the past that’s another one I probably created that impression that… you know, I don’t generally support legislation up here, or knock legislation. I have great concerns about legislation as always, which is really what this goes to today, you know, it’s always “where the rubber meets the road”, how does something turn out at the end.

So I’m always concerned about that, and in this particular area, you know, if somebody pressed me and said, “Look, yes or no, would you vote for it or not?”, I’d have to say “yes” because I think it’s the best you’re likely going to get. It’s the best thing I’ve seen so far. There are…. it’s not exactly like the GI Bill thing that I’d always suggested, that I proposed ten years ago, and have said consistently for ten years that the emphasis needs to be on the veteran end, but it’s probably as close to that as you’re going to get. It’s also narrowed probably more than I like to specifically post-traumatic stress, which is something I’ve always had concerns about because I don’t think it’s a nice, neat division that we like to make it, but given all of that, you know, I think this is probably, you know, the best thing I’ve seen.

My concerns, as I say, are with the implementation, and regardless of whether you support it or you don’t, I just want you to know what to expect here. Which, in all of the talk about the PAWS Act and all the push, I haven’t ever seen that discussed in any kind of detail at all, that I remember, so we’re… I’m going to go through that with you for some specific numbers and some details of what I think we can expect here if this passes.

So let’s just start, let’s go back and review this very quickly. You may or may not be familiar with the PAWS Act. Short version is if it goes, it’s $10 million out of the existing budget over five years at $2 million a year in $25,000 grants for each veteran referral from VA. Not tough to figure out, that’s 80 dogs a year or 400 total.

Now that might not sound like a lot to you, depending upon your knowledge of the service dog world, I would say is going to color whether or not… you know, how you feel about that, but I’m going to tell you 80 dogs, if you’re doing it right, that’s a lot. And let me put this in some perspective for you.

The biggest organization in the United States for service dogs, Canine Companions for Independence, turned out 366 dogs last year. That includes… well, at least I thought it included in that total, but they also trained 28 dogs as well – that’s the number I remember – for post-traumatic stress for VA. That’s a separate animal so I probably shouldn’t even mention it, because it gets complex, they do not train those dogs for just anybody. Whether they would if this act passes, I suspect they will. I think that will open up, that’s just supposition on my part. But maybe a better comparison here for you, the biggest organization in this specific space, and the primary proponent and supporter of this legislation, K9s for Warriors graduated 73 last year. So start right there to give you a frame of reference about how many dogs 80 dogs is.

Now there’s a limited number of organizations who are eligible to do that for this act. One of the things I discussed, and you’ll read in the bill, but just from this perspective, there’s a number, a set number of organizations who are in a position to do anything to begin with, so it’s already been narrowed down, and remember that’s Assistance Dogs International accredited organizations and members of this newly created Association of Service Dog Providers for Military Veterans – always stumble on that.

So where that shakes out is this: of the 60 accredited organizations, ADI accredited organizations, there are 28 by my count who provide dogs where post-traumatic stress is the primary diagnosis. Now whether that’s the actual…. I don’t see anything in the bill written that way, so I don’t think that that’s necessarily a hard and fast prerequisite, but I would say certainly that’s the clear intent of the bill, but it doesn’t say that. But even if you’re not limiting that way, you’re talking about 50 organizations out of the 60, there’s 10 that are guide dog only.

And remember that most of those organizations, you’re talking about 10 or 20 dogs a year, it’s not like the big ones. That distribution curve ramps out… drops down very, very quickly from the big places to the small places. If you add in the Association of Service Dog Providers for Military Veterans, that’s another six. There’s one organization that’s in both, it’s both ADI accredited and a member of that organization, and, not surprisingly, that’s K9s for Warriors. Those are all small places, too, so you start there and, you know, you have a size restriction in the sense that these are not big places, and there are geographic restrictions on many of them as well where you have to live in a specific area, so where you live counts, too.

So there’s not a lot that you’re starting out with there to support this. Then you have to talk about the organization’s ability to ramp up and provide new dogs for this, or realign their existing resources and that’s something we’ll talk about here in a minute.

And that’s not something you just do – let me give you an example.  I talked about this in a waiting list post that I wrote a few years ago, about small places with huge lists and their ability to ramp up and support those lists, you know. Specifically, that came up because of an organization that, at that time, had, over five years, only turned out maybe 50 teams. And it was a veterans’ place for post-traumatic stress, and they were talking about how they had 600-some people on their waiting list, which… that’s a long discussion in and of itself.

The key question is the same one here, and that’s this. If I gave you a bazillion dollars – I don’t know, pick a number – if I gave you x amount of dollars, what could you do with that? How many more people could you serve? How fast could you ramp up?

That is not a simple thing. Perfect example – look at Canine Companions for Independence here in Texas. The biggest place in the business, they are establishing a new region and a regional center somewhere they’ve already been operating for 30 years, if not more. They have a huge amount of support from the biggest hospital organization here in Texas, Baylor Scott & White Health, who is the reason that center’s even coming here, that’s behind it, it’s on their property, for example, and you have things like Roger Staubach visiting your center and ceremonially presenting a dog to a wounded veteran during a big halftime ceremony at a Cowboys game.

So, point being, it’s an established deal, you got a lot of money, got a lot of support, you’re starting there. Your stated goal is 60 teams a year, and the first class was in September 2014, the center opened in November 2015, and last year, 2016, they only graduated 25 teams. Now I say “only” -that’s a great thing for those 25, but remember the stated goal is 60, and my point in this context is, if a place that big, with all that stuff going for it, is only ramping up that way, for whatever reasons there might be there – combination maybe of caution… whatever the reasons are, I’d say that’s a pretty good standard of comparison.

Now I know K9s for Warriors, I saw something the other day where they have said they believe they can do 144 a year, 12 a month, which is basically almost double what they’re doing right now, and I know they just broke ground on another facility. But, again, all that’s just for a comparison, you know, for you to understand that, if you’re going to do this right… cause I think a lot of times there are people who don’t know this world, they think “Whoa, there’s millions of dogs out there.”, it’s like, “Yeah, take a deep breath here.” If you’re gonna do this right, and especially the way this thing has been defined, you’re cutting down your options there a lot off the front.

There is also a question of realigning dogs, giving a dog to somebody in this program, or under a grant here, that might have gone somewhere else. Now let me be really, really, really clear about that, OK. I have said for years this whole myth, and this concept of “I don’t want to apply for a dog, because I might be taking somebody else’s dog”…

On the applicant end, that is not something for you to even think about. So I’m not changing my concept, or my attitude, about that at all. On the organization end, that is a totally different discussion, and you do have to think about that. You have so many resources, and, yes, there are dogs that would be appropriate for one person that are not appropriate for somebody else. That is very much a consideration on the organization end.

Where that might fit in here, I don’t know. There’s no restrictions I saw on timing that I could see here, meaning, theoretically, somebody could already have a dog and then go get a referral. I don’t know if that would go or not – again, that’s part of the implementation, and I’d have to think about that, I don’t think that bothers me so much. But what I can really see happening, though, more likely, is that an organization has somebody who’s already on a waiting list, and then you have them go get a referral. And, in fact, the smart place would work with them to get that referral, and use that corporate knowledge among all the people that are out getting dogs, and work that. There’s nothing wrong with that – and work the system, not in a bad way. In fact, I think that’s part of the deal, I would expect a good place to do that.

So could I envision somebody that’s got a lot of people on a waiting list, and works with them to get referrals because… remember, there’s no such thing as a referral now. I think people think there might be. You know, I’ve seen these things that consist of a doc or somebody writing a letter for somebody so that usually they can have a dog at their house or whatever, but that’s not… this program doesn’t even exist. So that has to all be worked out and defined, and my assumption also there is that a referral is not to a specific organization, but that “here’s a referral, you go where you want to go and can get accepted”, and then they file for the grant. That’s what I would expect to see but, again, you know, we don’t know that.

Now you can get into a whole discussion about “Well, does this really mean more dogs – more new dogs – if I do that?” and I would say well, theoretically, it should anyway, because even if you take somebody off the existing list, then the money you were going to spend there, you would spend on new dogs. So I think you could make that argument, and I don’t have a big heart attack with that one. You know, I just think it tells you where things are going to go here.

So where does that all go? To me, this all adds up pretty simply: K9s for Warriors is going to handle the bulk of the work here. And they are the place that will benefit, by far, the most from this bill. That’s how I think it’s going to shake out.

That doesn’t… Is that a bad thing? I think you can make a case that it’s a good thing that is going to take the load off of other people. You know, my only problem with them, I guess – and I’ve addressed this – is they’re just a little too hypey for me. You know, they’re clearly very well connected, but some of those statements that got made lately… I mean, the connections are certainly there. You know, Rory Diamond is a very well connected guy, Bush Institute Presidential Leadership Scholar – in fact, they just graduated last week. You do things like hire Bryan Battaglia who was the Senior Enlisted Advisor for the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff that works for you now… I mean, they are very well connected, there is nothing criminal about that, but it gets a little too hypey for me sometimes because I don’t like that kind of thing in general.

But I think if you look at this, you know, you go down this list of factors here – the size, the ability to ramp up. There’s a single focus there – in other words they don’t have to make those kind of tradeoffs with other types of places of dog might go. I mean. I guess you could get real nit picky here about who’s getting a grant and who’s not, but there’s no geographic limitations, they serve the entire country and, again then you have all the connects there.

So I think that’s what you’re going to see. I think you’re going to see them handle the bulk of this as much as they can. And, again, let’s go back to where I start this conversation. It’s not whether I think that’s a bad thing, I don’t necessarily think it is. I just want everybody who’s jumping up and down going “Rah! Rah! Rah! Let’s support this bill!”… OK, that’s cool, just understand what you’re probably looking at here.

OK, first off, there’s a question of how the referrals even get handled. You know, you would think 80 referrals given the amount of demand is like nothing. Well… let’s see how they get handled administratively. You know, you got a new VA Secretary talking about making things go fast – I don’t know, let’s see. Then you have to go find the 80 dogs. And, again, that may sound like nothing to you… that could be more than you know. Maybe you don’t even get 80 referrals, which you would think that’s nuts, but, hey, you never know. Maybe you don’t get 80 dogs. But the organizations that are talking all that need to be prepared for that. And, I don’t know…  maybe they are, maybe they’re not. The public needs to be prepared for that.

Again, I just go back to where this conversation starts: Where are all the dogs going to come from? I’m not telling you that they’re not going to happen. Maybe you get 80 referrals, maybe you get 80 dogs, life is swell and wonderful, and we press on down the road.  Could work that way. So..

That’s just a quick update, I guess. I wouldn’t call it a PAWS Act update because that’s not… you know, where that is in the process – and I keep seeing co-sponsors get added – but in the sense of, if the act passes, what can you expect? And, you know, I think I’ve just given you a pretty good idea what to look for, and, you know, something for you to, I guess, file away, make decisions as you see appropriate.

You know, my real concern here more than anything else is standards. Totally outside of the PAWS Act and everything else, you continue to hear me harp on standards. And where that plays here is the organizations that are out there like the Association of Service Dog Providers for Military Veterans, who just had their first conference the last few days in DC, and ADI, and their ability to assure the American public about their member organizations and the quality of the teams and the dogs that are coming from those organizations. And we’re not there yet, in my view. And that’s one that continually locks up my brain, frankly, about trying to get that all together in your head and saying, “OK, look, how do we do this?” Because that is a case to me of the thing I mentioned last week with the Canadian standard that I don’t support… that is very much a case, though, here I think of being able to say “let’s keep government out of it, let’s do this on our own”, but you got to do it well. But if you’re going to do that, to me, it’s going to have to be done a lot better than it is. Not the focus of the discussion this time, but in the back of my head, that’s always what’s there… is the overall standard and making things like they ought to be.

Again, I want to thank you for coming by, as always. I look forward to talking to you again soon. Any links associated with this will be up at my site, albrittain.com or dogchief.com . Look forward to talking to you again.

Links

https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/2327

https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/senate-bill/1014

“K9s for Warriors breaks ground on new training facility”

“Just How Big Should A Waiting List Be?”