Pilot program underway in Rolla, Waynesville

Guardian Angels for Soldier’s Pet announces a new assistance program known as Warrior Angels with the purpose of helping military members and veterans diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in identifying potential PTSD assistance canines, overseeing the appropriate training and certification of these assistance canines and providing ongoing follow-up with the handlers and their assistance canines following graduation.
The program started April 1, 2013, and at this time, it is designated as a pilot  program in Rolla and Waynesville. The pilot program is interacting with the Warrior Transition Unit at Fort Leonard Wood, evaluation/training/certifying service providers, such as Patriot Kennels, Inc. and Canine Connections Dog Training, and the Rolla Animal Shelter.
The pilot program was implemented based on the premise that all parties involved (the organization, pilot program’s coordination liaison volunteer, the accepted applicant and authorized service providers) agree to coordinate, evaluate, train, certify and follow up with the handler and assistance canine according to the American Disabilities Act (ADA) and Assistance Dogs International published minimum standards for assistance dogs.
Susan Hinkle, of Rolla, has been appointed as the organization’s Warrior Angels coordination liaison overseeing the Missouri pilot program working with each handler candidate and the chosen training/certifying service providers — Patriot Kennels, Inc. (Jess Storie, owner/trainer) in Waynesville,  and Canine Connections Dog Training (Jessi Queen, owner) participating in the Missouri pilot program.
Hinkle reminded people that services dogs are not to be petted. People should ask the owner first before petting a service dog, she said. Service dogs need tofocus on their owners, she added.
Rolla Animal Control Manager John Redshaw said as an Army veteran himself, he is honored to be a part of this program and for the Rolla Animal Shelter and City of Rolla to support it. “We’re going to do whatever we can,” Redshaw said.
“It’s like having another battle buddy, but we’re battling a different war. I need him as much as he needs me,” said Brandon Cole, of Newburg, who is in the local program with a dog named Buddy adopted from the Rolla Animal Shelter. “it’s a good distraction from anxiety and it’s an extension of your support system.”

In addition, where possible a pet owned currently by the handler candidate is the first choice to be evaluated to determine if the pet may be a good candidate to become an Warrior Angels’ certified assistance canine for his/her owner.
In the event the family pet does not meet the standards defined by the ADA and Assistance Dogs International, then the Rolla Animal Shelter has stepped forward as a supporter to the pilot program by allowing the handler candidate, Hinkle, and Storie to visit dogs in the shelter for identifying a potential assistance canine candidate.
Once an assistance canine candidate has been determined, the handler and such candidate will go through an up to eight-week training program in preparation for the Canine Good Citizen and required public access tests in order for the chosen canine to be certified as an assistance canine.
Though there is no actual fee charged to the handler, the handler will be responsible for such canine related expenses regarding proper animal care, keeping the pet current on all required vaccinations, necessary veterinarian care, maintaining local licenses and appropriate liability insurance.
Guardian Angels for Soldier’s Pet through their Military Pet Assistance fund (donations earmarked as Warrior Angels) will cover costs (estimated not to exceed $2,500 per assistance canine) related to up-front veterinarian services, evaluation, training, the official Guardian Angels for Soldier’s Pet official service dog vest with handler and a canine picture laminated identification card, and other costs related to the pilot program overall.
The funds for the Warrior Angels pilot program are being obtained through direct public support donations received from individuals, businesses/corporations, and other organizations, earmarked as Warrior Angels, which will be administered through the organization’s Military Pet Assistance fund account.
According to Guardian Angels for Soldier’s Pet National CEO Linda Spurlin-Dominik, “Though the DoD (Department of Defense) and VA (Veterans’ Affairs) at this time have issued specific directives regarding PTSD service dogs (basically known as emotional support dogs), there is nothing preventing us from developing and testing a program that will further help these warriors to assist with such areas as proper training and testing using the ADA and Assistance Dogs International published minimal standards for assistance dogs in regards to providing these assistance canines to our veterans who have officially been diagnosed with PTSD and per the appropriate military/VA physician feels having a properly trained and certified assistance canine will be a benefit to the service member/veteran especially in public venues.”
In addition to the local pilot program at this time, the organization is planning to establish the program initially as a pilot program in other states as warranted and the appropriate volunteers and service providers have been identified and commit to being part of the Warrior Angels program within their respective state.
Questions related to the Warrior Angels local pilot program may be directed by email to Susan Hinkle at susanh@fidnet.com