Focus at Four: Proposed law allows veterans to train service dogs as form of therapy

Published: Dec. 28, 2017 at 5:15 PM CST
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About one out of every five veterans returns home with invisible wounds of war. Now, an Ohio congressman argues assuming command over a four-legged friend could be a key to improving the recovery of struggling veterans.

At holiday parties and among friends, former Army Ranger Nick Starling found himself constantly on high-alert.

Starling suffers from hyper-vigilance, a symptom of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder and his tours in Iraq.

The, a year-and-a-half ago, a furry "Saint" entered his life.

"That’s why I can have my back to the door right now," said Starling, "because I know he’s got my back."

Saint is Starling’s service dog.

The highly-trained rescue relieves Starling’s anxiety, allowing him to attend events without feeling the need to seclude himself at home for a week afterward.

Meanwhile, Rep. Steve Stivers (R-Ohio) wants to help more veterans like Starling.

"Anybody that’s ever been a pet owner knows that the bond you create with your dog really does make a difference in your life," said Stivers.

Rep. Stivers wants struggling veterans to take on a new mission while they’re in a VA hospital: train dogs to assist others with physical and mental disabilities.

In theory, the newfound companion would complement the new trainer’s recovery.

"Anything we can do to get these veterans help, we need to focus on," said Stivers.

Stivers says his idea for a pilot project at three hospitals is backed by research into the positive effects of both service and therapy dogs.

In 2016, Stivers' proposed law cleared the House but stalled in the Senate. He hopes the outcome will be different in 2018 with significant bi-partisan support.

Patriot Paws of Aggieland is a non-profit that trains and donates service dogs to wounded veterans. One trainer and one "puppy-raiser" for the organization stopped by to give their thoughts on the bill. See the video above for that conversation.