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Battle, a rescue dog from the group Paws and Stripes, stands with Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran Lawrence Montoya during a training session in Albuquerque, N.M.
Jeri Clausing/ASSOCIATED PRESS
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Date published: 10/10/2012
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.--Stories like Jim Stanek's are common and quickly multiplying: An Iraqi war veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury, he says his life was saved by a dog that gave him the confidence to do seemingly simple things, like go out to dinner and look his wife in the eye rather than watch his own back.
But the growing list of small nonprofits involved in training affordable assistance dogs for vets like Stanek has created a Wild West-type atmosphere in the service dog world, creating tension between mom-and-pop groups trying to fill what they call a crucial void and the Veterans Administration and more traditional service dog groups.
Exacerbating the situation are several recent actions by the VA, including a decision against covering the cost of service dogs for PTSD and traumatic brain injuries until a study on the scientific benefits can be completed--a study that has itself been plagued with potential delays and problems, including issues with aggression of some of the participating dogs.
At the same time, the VA refused to loosen its requirement that service dogs it covers be trained by groups accredited by either Assistance Dogs International or the International Guide Dog Federation.
The actions are frustrating to people like Stanek, who was unable to obtain his own service dog through traditional channels.
"I tried like nine different times to get a service dog through organizations," he said. "The door kept closing. I didn't have the money. They can cost $10,000 to $30,000 to $60,000."
So he and his wife, Lindsey, a former veterinary clinic worker, decided to train their own rescue dog, Sarge, to be his service dog. That led to the creation of Paws and Stripes, which in nearly two years has matched almost 50 veterans with shelter dogs.
The owners select their adult dog from a group of pre-screened shelter dogs. The dogs go home immediately with the veteran, then the pair goes through six months of training so the dogs can learn to assist their owners, whether it's to help them physically or just to provide that back-watching peace of mind that many Iraqi and Afghan war veterans need to do simple things like go into a shopping mall, or sit down to dinner in a restaurant and relax, knowing strangers are behind them.