“He has been hospitalized three times in the past for attempting suicide. His service dog, Jack, accompanies him everywhere he goes, including to his bi-weekly therapy sessions…”
According to Sutton, his dog Jack is a necessary part of his ongoing recovery. However, Sutton claims that during a recent visit to the VA for a therapy session:
“A guard stopped me in the hallway, and said ‘you can’t come in here with that dog.’”
Houston Fox affiliate Fox26 reports that Sutton received an email, which stated in part:
The VA explained its reasoning behind the ban to Fox26, stating:
“The Houston VA medical center welcomes trained service dogs, and certainly recognized their value to our veterans. In accordance with the VA national policy, the medical center world to ensure that dogs entering our main hospital or our clinics are trained to be in waiting rooms with veterans and other trained service dogs. PTSD emotional support dogs are often not trained specifically for this.”
“Operation Delta Dog works with professional trainers and behaviorists…. All participating dogs must meet strict guidelines relating to their temperament, health, and age… [then] begin a 6-week intensive training period.”
Once a dog is matched with its owner, training continues:
“Training consists of multiple classes during the week…and lasts approximately twelve to fifteen months…”
If the dog passes all required tests:
“… [it] becomes a certified service animal with all the protections afforded to its handler by the ADA.”
Despite their rigorous training, it’s uncertain whether the dogs from Operation Delta Dog are trained to deal with being around other dogs, and other veterans seeking treatment in VA hospitals.
However, Bob Taylor, the founder of Dog Wish, an organization that places service dogs with veterans suffering from PTSD, told IJReview that the VA is behaving in a discriminatory way:
“The VA is discriminating ignorantly. And it’s wrong. [Our dogs] are trained to ignore other dogs, and focus on their handler solely.”
Taylor, a retired LA police officer, and a “California Superior Court and Multi-County Behavioral K9 Expert,” added:
“We even take our dogs into ICU. We can take our dogs into a waiting room with 20 kids, and have them crawling all over them, and they just sit there.”
While it’s not a certainty that other facilities train their PTSD service dogs to the caliber of Dog Wish, given the status of these dogs as service animals, it seems likely that they would comply with training standards.
As of today, the VA stands by its position regarding the training of PTSD dogs, but is currently looking for special means to allow John Sutton to take his dog Jack into his therapy sessions with him, as he has always done.
—Courtesy of IJ Review