Service Dogs Making a Difference
Ottawa – October 4, 2013
I had the good fortune last week to meet Médric Cousineau, his wife Jocelyn, and his service dog Thai. This highly decorated Veteran has just completed a walk across four provinces to help raise awareness about the potential benefits of service dogs for Veterans coping with mental health issues. He is also raising funds to procure some of these highly trained animals to help other Veterans. I was pleased to learn that the Royal Canadian Legion has offered support to Médric’s "Paws Fur Thought" campaign and that it is committed to assisting in the future.
Médric’s initiative caused me to 'pause for thought' on the effects that animals have on our well-being. After chatting with Médric, I now clearly understand the difference between a therapy animal that provides companionship and a service animal that has special skills oriented towards providing more focused assistance to its master.
In the case of Thai, he easily qualifies as a four-pawed caregiver. Since acquiring him, Médric has reduced his dependence on medications by half and lost over 170 pounds. In addition, Jocelyn says that the best thing since getting Thai is that they both now get to sleep at night. During my visit, I also learned about the case of a diabetic Veteran in the Ottawa area who was recently matched with a service dog trained to monitor his diabetic condition and alert him when his blood sugar level is too low.
Access to a service dog is not a choice made by a Veteran alone. There must be a prescription from the attending caregiver and an agreement from the health care team before proceeding. There also needs to be a big commitment on the part of a Veteran who must accept that because the service dog will accompany him everywhere, invisible injuries will now be visible.
I was pleased to see that the Minister of Veterans Affairs met with Médric recently and has announced funding for research on service dogs to be undertaken by our own Canadian Military and Veterans Health Institution. Since the research will focus on Canadian Veterans, hopefully Veterans who have experienced significant change in their lives after being matched with service dogs will be interviewed.
Last year the US Army Medical Department Journal devoted an entire issue to exploring relevant research on service dogs. In the introduction, Major General Rubenstein wrote: "Although attempts to systematically quantify and scientifically evaluate the results of animal-assisted therapy have been and will continue to be made, for now the anecdotal evidence of its overwhelmingly positive impact is not only encouraging, but also substantial enough to support its continuation."
Therefore, while we wait for the research to be conducted, let us not lose sight of the fact that service dogs are having a positive effect on the lives of Veterans today. One only has to look at the Cousineau family to see that. I believe that if the evidence is showing a demonstrable positive impact then the government should support this initiative.
On behalf of our Veterans and their families, thank you Médric, Jocelyn and Thai.
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