My dear friends Nanc Patterson and her late one-of-a-kind Canine Companions for Independence service dog Mahler.
The theme this time is standards and evaluation – or lack of them. There’s no more important issue in the assistance dog world.
I’m always focused on that issue, but a number of recent ongoing events have only highlighted and ramped up that focus, and I talk about all of those things in that context, including:
● The Delta Airlines dog bite incident where a passenger was bitten on the face, required 28 stitches, and may need plastic surgery. Many questions here including what evaluation, if any, did the airline use to verify the claimed status (emotional support or service, whichever it was) of this dog?
● An issue with a service dog from an Association of Service Dog Providers for Military Veterans member organization, Labs for Liberty, where a veteran says the dog she got from them is not properly trained. ASDPMV says all of its members have to commit to their National Model standards and that adherence to those standards is governed by their accreditation procedures. Exactly what accreditation does ASDPMV do? What is their involvement, if any, in this situation? Are they even investigating it?
This has major implications for the PAWS Act, since ASDPMV members are the only organizations who’ve been given equal status with Assistance Dogs International accredited organizations as the only service dog places eligible for VA grants under that act, a status that I believe is premature.
● The Wounded Warrior Service Dog Program is a DoD program that provides $5 million in grants annually to organizations to provide service dogs to veterans. The program does not require organizations to be ADI or International Guide Dog Federation accredited to be eligible for a grant – they only have to provide a statement that they’re committed to ADI and IGDF standards – and they are also required to conduct a self evaluation. How does DoD effectively evaluate these organizations? Can they?
● Same questions apply to the PAWS Act if it passes. How will VA effectively evaluate the organizations who receive grants? Can they? It’s noteworthy that VA hired its own trainers to evaluate the dogs in the latest version of the post-traumatic stress service dog study precisely because they were not willing to trust the contracted organizations after feeling they were burned so badly by the organizations involved in the first iteration of that study, which they had to ultimately terminate and start over.
● Assistance Dogs International has a great thirty year foundation to build on, and, despite some of the critics, is still the only organization to actively accredit service dog organizations the way they do. (IGDF does that for guide dog organizations, and their US guide dog organizations are also ADI accredited.) I believe they have a critical role to play, but there’s still a leadership vacuum in some key areas, and I talk about ADI’s real mission – consumer protection – and some places where I think they can improve.