On Friday, I went with Beesley Animal Clinic to Hippie Hill to vaccinate dogs and hand out rabies tags (for free). I should specify, I will sometimes hold the dogs still while the Veterinarian gives the shots. That is pretty much the extent of my help other than driving to the always interesting areas.
While at Hippie Hill, I ran across a man who was once homeless in Murfreesboro. He is now living on the hill and just based on my observation, he is feeling better about life because he is now in a community as opposed to living alone under a bridge or on a side street somewhere in Murfreesboro.
Hippie Hill is not for everyone, but it does offer community for the lonely, the kicked to the curb, the outcast or the lost. Community is important for those struggling in the crazy and extreme world in which we live.
According to the dictionary, community is one of two things or either both: a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common. Community is also a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals. To me, those are some of the most important things to have behind you as you fight to get on your feet.
For the man photographed, he said that he is an Army Veteran who talked about experiencing war time saga in the Middle East.
“My Pitbull is my service dog,” he said. While you don’t typically hear about Pitbull dogs being used as service animals he further explained, “In Nashville, they wouldn’t let me take er’ into the shelter even though it is my service animal – they even proclaimed that a Pitbull should never be a service dog.” Such a statement shows that the organization he visited does not value service animals because any breed of dog can be used as a service animal.
To be a comforting companion for the hurt, the distraught or the struggling, a service animal does not have to be specially registered to receive such a label. Service dogs have been proven beneficial in a major way for our Veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression. In fact, it is well documented that such animals are proven to offer comfort to those with a long list of mental illnesses.
As for the dog photographed next to his human, that human rescued and trained the animal. That human cares for the dog and the dog offers him comfort in a major way, despite the breed that is frowned upon by some.
It is 100% true that the man photographed could apply for a registered service dog with a variety of Veterans groups or directly through the VA, but the timeline for him to receive the new animal is unclear. There is a waiting list and a number of qualifications that he would have to meet before even being eligible to receive a certified service dog. One stipulation that many groups have is that the recipient of the animal have a real address.
Like many government waters that our Veterans have to wade through to get help, the waters are not only murky, but deep to receive a service animal.
According to the VA, every request for a service animal is reviewed and evaluated for the ability to care for the animal to be given to the recipient. They also review the goals that are to be accomplished through the use of the dog, sometimes failing to understand that the dog simply offers comfort during distress or loneliness.
One of the many issues that Veterans face in receiving proper help is that after wartime, many return changed by what they saw. That change could equal alcoholism without help in the beginning. Alcoholism without help mixed with high emotions could amount to fights on civilian property, bar brawls, etc. Those actions fall into a lack of control category with resulting DUI, assault, aggravated assault charges. The domino effect then ends with a drop in rank if still enlisted which could mean less pay upon separation or perhaps even a dishonorable discharge that could equal a lack of medical benefits. Many times, that discharge comes before the service member received the proper help for what they saw while fighting for our country as enlisted to do so.
Trauma shapes the brain in a major way and in some circumstances, the brain of someone who has yet to even have a fully developed thinking process. As an example, if someone were to enlist at age 18 and see hand to hand combat at 19, that trauma witnessed will change the way they think in a major way because scientist and psychologist have confirmed that the brain continues to develop up to age 25.
In an NPR interview recorded in 2011, Dr. Sandra Aamodt stated, “The car rental companies got to it first, but neuroscientists have caught up and brain scans show clearly that the brain is not fully finished developing until about age 25.”
Now, back to the service dog… When a Veteran is dishonorably discharged they are almost instantly disqualified to receive an animal. But, if a Veteran is approved for a service dog, the Veteran is then referred to an outside agency approved by the government to provide specialized dogs. From there, the Veterans name is added to a waiting list to receive the animal.
An ADA’s ruling from 1990 will not allow for the title of “Service Animal” for just any dog. However, the ruling does not specify any particular breed, which means any dog can be titled a service dog. Of course that equals more confusion when you factor in that legally speaking, there is not a hard and fast certification required for a service animal. But, the service animal training community self regulates the standards for training a service animal.
Multiple rulings from the 1990’s show case after case where persons with service animals living in public housing won their suit allowing for them to own and have their dogs on properties that do not allow for pets.
One ruling from 1990 shows that an ESA animal or an “Emotional Support Animal,” does not have to receive any specific training to provide therapeutic benefit to an individual with mental or psychiatric disability. Another ruling that unfolded in the courts started in 1990 and ended in 1998 after a judge ruled that a property manager violated federal statutes when requiring proof from tenants that their dog had received specialized training to become a service animal (Green v. Housing Authority of Clackamas County). A ruling from 2013 suggested that a college dorm had violated a student’s rights in regards to fair housing when they would not allow for her service animal to live with her in the dorm (United States v. Univ. of Neb. at Kearney). Cases like this continue with rulings falling to the favor of the service animal owner.
So, if one man who suffers from the negative yet heroic impacts of war while fighting for his country believes and sees his animal as his service dog, then so be it. I will recognize his animal as well – just as the folks at Hippie Hill do.
“Dogs don’t rationalize. They don’t hold anything against a person. They don’t see the outside of a human but the inside of a human.” —Cesar Millan (dog trainer)