In 2012, I wrote the article found below for a local publication. I am posting it to my blog today in honor of Luis Carlos Montalvan, former Army captain, author, and advocate for American veterans, especially those suffering from PTSD. Luis died in December; I learned about his passing just last week.
I followed him on Facebook and several years ago, had the honor of meeting him in person. Luis had a service dog named Tuesday, who received the 2013 American Kennel Club ACE Award (Awards for Canine Excellence). The two visited my local library after the release of Luis’ book Until Tuesday. Their story is moving and I was honored to have met them in person and later to follow Luis (and Tuesday) on Facebook. In their honor, I post this article published November 2012 in Our Town Casper magazine:
I recently finished reading an incredible book, Until Tuesday: A Wounded Warrior and the Golden Retriever Who Saved Him. I was privileged to meet and briefly speak with author and former Army Captain Luis Carlos Montalvan. Listening to Captain Montalvan, witnessing his service dog, Tuesday, and then reading about them in Luis’ book, touched my heart and soul. I’ve met a few service dogs and their human partners in times past; coupled with Captain Montalvan’s recent presentation and reading about him and Tuesday in the book, I possess a deeper appreciation for the service that assistance animals provide – as well as a deeper understanding about the horrors of war and the affects upon our service men and women.
In light of Veteran’s Day and my encounters with Luis, Tuesday and their story, I spent a bit of time researching and learning about animal assistance programs for veterans. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs will pay for guide dogs for blind veterans, hearing dogs for the hearing impaired, and assistance dogs for veterans with other physical disabilities. However, the agency ruled in September that it would not pay for service dogs for veterans suffering from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) – see link: http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/09/06/13708645-va-wont-cover-costs-of-service-dogs-assigned-for-ptsd-treatment. Yet, it will provide (and prescribe) nearly any type of pharmaceutical drug for treating mental and emotional distress.
Scientific studies show people with pets are less prone to depression, are more active physically, and have lower blood pressure and cholesterol. Dogs, cats and other animals trained as therapy pets visit nursing homes and hospitals and help lessen anxiety among those with whom they spend time. Emotional support animals (ESA) are used with people who have an emotional disability, and can be prescribed by a licensed mental health provider (learn more at the National Service Animal Registry website: http://www.nsarco.com/emotionalsupportanimals.html).
Our wounded warriors can use such assistance. The Pentagon reported earlier this year that suicide among American active-duty military personnel rose to an average of one per day. Additionally, according to the Army Times in 2010, about 18 veterans each day committed suicide. It’s estimated that 30 to 40 percent of veterans suffer from PTSD. These are startling, and scary, statistics.
Capt. Montalvan suffers from PTSD as well as remnants from traumatic physical injuries to his brain and vertebrae from an incident in Iraq. He also experienced nightmares, sleeplessness, hypervigilance, and isolation, common threads in PTSD.
Although his condition improved after being partnered with Tuesday, his service dog, Montalvan will never be completely healed, either physically or emotionally. He relies on Tuesday to get through his days and his nights. Tuesday is trained to respond to Luis’ needs, the physical and the emotional. Tuesday provides Luis balance, steadying him on the bumpy, concrete sidewalks and helping him navigate stairs (Luis walks with a cane). Tuesday provides Luis balance emotionally as well, navigating the signals of anxiety as they walk through towns and travel on subways or airplanes.
Luis admits in his book, “I don’t look exactly like a typical disabled person with a service dog.” And for that, he, and numerous others, have been and are discriminated against. Service animals who are trained to perform tasks to help disabled people wear a vest, often with the words “service animal” or “working animal” on them; there are laws which allow such animals into places where most typical “pets” are not: restaurants and other public buildings, airplanes and public transportation, housing. However, Luis recounts numerous times the discrimination he encountered.
Although Emotional Service Animals are not always allowed in the same places as certified assistance animals, there are federally protected rights for these animals and their human partners, including flying on an airline not being allowed into “no pet policy” housing.
I am grateful those who need such physical or emotional service can and do receive that. Numerous others do not. May this Veteran’s Day be the eye-opener we need to recognize and honor those service men and women who have lost limbs, experienced traumatic brain injury and PTSD, or perhaps even suffer silently yet can greatly benefit from the devotion and care a service animal provides. Our wounded warriors deserve whatever medical treatment suits them best… and sometimes that’s lick in the face or a paw on the knee from a four-footed creature that adores (and sacrifices) for them.
If interested in learning more about Captain Montalvan and Tuesday, visit: http://until-tuesday.com/.
From the Blogger/Author: Although Luis has passed, an upcoming book will continue his and Tuesday’s legacy. Tuesday’s Promise is scheduled for release in May. Tuesday, now 10 years of age, is being cared for by the organization that brought them together: Educating Canines Assisting with Disabilities (ECAD). If you are so inclined as I was, you can make a donation in Luis’ memory and Tuesday’s honor at this website: https://connect.clickandpledge.com/w/Form/9f980d6d-5bbf-4162-be1c-3821bc674d0f
Pet owners don’t need a special time to honor and celebrate their pets, but throughout the year there are various recognitions in honor of pets. For example, the second week of May is Be Kind to Animals Week, the month of June is Adopt-A-Shelter-Cat Month, and November is Adopt-A-Senior-Pet Month. The last week September is considered National Dog Week, when dog owners and various organizations honor dogs.
William Judy, who started Dog World Magazine in the 1920s, first set aside this special week as a way to celebrate those special creatures deemed “man’s best friend”.
The American Kennel Club (www.akw.org) honors both dogs and owners during National Dog Ownership Responsibility Day. The AKC is hosting a major event in North Carolina on September 21, and various AKC organizations will host activities highlighting the joy (and responsibility) of owning a dog throughout September. People and organizations can register the many activities they do with their dogs to impart responsibility. To learn more, visit http://www.akc.org/clubs/rdod/index.cfm.
In my community, we're having a Pet Fest on Saturday, Sept. 14. The Central Wyoming Kennel Club will be there as well as many other organizations and people who love dogs.
Dogs have served humankind for thousands of years, from protector to bearer of burdens. Native Americans, for example, used dogs to transport loads prior to the horse. Still today, dogs serve people in a variety of ways: herding and protecting flocks; finding fowl in the field; guiding the blind; assisting deaf and wheel-chair bound individuals; rescuing lost children; and bringing smiles to those in hospital beds. Here’s a quick look at some of the ways dogs help people:
Assistance dogs are specially trained to help people manage physical or emotional disabilities. Guide dogs assist the blind, deaf assistance dogs alert people to the telephone or doorbell, and assistance dogs help those in wheelchairs open refrigerators and building doors.
Search and rescue dogs look for the lost. From hikers and skiers to victims of the 9-11 terrorist attacks, these hero dogs put their health and life in the balance in the line of their duty.
Military and police dogs also put their lives on the line. From sniffing for drugs or bombs to patrol duties, these dogs serve our country in the United States and abroad.
Visiting hospitals and nursing homes, therapy dogs bring smiles to the faces of ill children and lonely senior citizens.
Read-to-the-dog programs are popular in many libraries across the country; these programs help children become better readers for they aren’t as nervous reading to dogs as they are reading with adults. The Butte Public Library, for example, has a program called Paws for Reading, at which time children interact with special visiting dogs.
Sporting dogs, including spaniels, retrievers and pointers, help bring home dinner in the form of ducks, pheasants, and partridge,
Herding dogs, like the Australian Shepherd and the Old English sheep dog, have the genetic instinct to drive and gather livestock. Historically, they have been used to assist shepherds and farmers; many of these dogs, such as the collie and the Canaan dog, have been used for centuries.
A variety of dogs are working breeds, including the Siberian husky and the Bernese mountain dog. Others, including German Shepherds, Akitas, and Doberman pinschers, help protect people and property.
Dogs help people in many ways, including the simple acts of helping us exercise, lowering our blood pressure, and getting us to laugh and smile more often. So, honor your special pooch during National Dog Week with an extra ounce of kibble, a special hug, or a day outdoors in the field. And, consider attending a special event near you for Dog Ownership Responsibility Day.
Also, remember those wonderful canines you don’t know, like those that search for lost hikers, those who dig skiers from avalanches, those which have given their lives sniffing for bombs, dogs that bring a smile to a grandfather’s face when visiting the nursing home, and dogs that spend time in libraries listening to children hesitantly read aloud… dogs in service to others for the sake of all.
Gayle M. Irwin is a writer and public relations professional who volunteers with various animal rescue groups. She enjoys sharing her books and her passion for pets and the environment with others.