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Federal study on PTSD service dogs not sitting well with some advocates

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Re: Federal study on PTSD service dogs not sitting well with some advocates

Post by Guest on Mon 04 Sep 2017, 14:41

Mixed reaction greets report on service dogs for veterans, first responders

August 29, 2017

Ongoing study measuring efficacy of psychiatric service dogs

(Canadian OH&S News) — A research team working on behalf of Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) recently released the early results of an ongoing pilot study on psychiatric service dogs for military veterans and first responders — but the report has disappointed a few service-dog advocates.

Published in the International Journal of Neurorehabilitation in June, the article was part of a project conducted by Laval University in Quebec City, to inform VAC on the effectiveness of mental-health service dogs for vets and first responders with operational stress injuries like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The article identified nine positive effects of psychiatric service dogs, including detection, prevention and control of crises and nightmares, improved sleep and moods, better concentration and improved self-confidence. The report also pointed out two “undesirable events” that result from using service dogs: difficulty accessing public places and stigmatization.

“This became an issue for us a few years ago, when it became clear — really, from veterans themselves — that mental-health service dogs became an emerging area of interest,” said Dr. David Pedlar, VAC’s director of research. “It’s a broad area that had had limited attention.”

The first step, Dr. Pedlar explained, was to initiate an evidence review, which was conducted by James Gillette, a researcher at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont. “It concluded that there was very limited evidence to provide guidance to the department or organizations, like Veterans Affairs, that would be interested in exploring policy development in this area.”

He added that the June report was just the first part of the study, of which the full first phase should be completed this fall and the final conclusions are expected next year.

“The focus of that work was to help build a logic model, so that we could better understand the contexts of psychiatric service dogs,” said Dr. Pedlar. “That was based on interviews with stakeholders, and that included veterans themselves who are dog owners, service-dog trainers, veteran advocates.” The team also consulted medical doctors and members of the Canadian General Standards Board.

One stakeholder who was dissatisfied with the preliminary results was Medric Cousineau, a co-founder of Paws Fur Thought, a Nova Scotia volunteer organization that pairs mental-health service dogs with veterans and first responders suffering from PTSD. Cousineau lamented the inclusion of the “undesirable events,” which he considers “societal issues,” rather than indicators of the effectiveness of service dogs.

“If people didn’t ask inappropriate questions, then there’d probably be less stigmatization and anxiety. If public access was not a problem, there’d be less stigmatization and anxiety,” Cousineau told COHSN.

He added that VAC already knows that psychiatric service dogs work well, but is avoiding the real issues, such as an enormous supply-demand gap. “We already have two-year wait lists,” he said. “They won’t even talk about it.”

Cousineau even speculated that VAC was trying to discourage the use of mental-health service dogs due to pressure from the pharmaceutical industry. “One of the things that they report as one of the nine benefits is the reduction in the use of medications,” he said. “Interesting, eh?”

Another reported naysayer was Nova Scotia MP Peter Stoffer, another veterans’ advocate. An Aug. 22 CBC News story quoted Stoffer as saying that VAC really needed to educate the general public on the difference between psychiatric service dogs and other kinds of service dogs.

“I would assume that the people who made those assessments don’t have a service dog themselves,” he reportedly said. “They’re not therapy dogs.”

But Dr. Pedlar stressed that the “undesirable events” had been included only to suggest the obstacles and issues that may affect veterans in public spaces.

“Issues like stigmatization, those are also objectives that things like the Canadian Mental Health Commission focus on reducing,” he said. “The stigmatization is more broad. It’s about how the public reacts and perceives mental-health, versus physical-health, conditions as a whole.

“From my perspective, this first piece of evidence is highly encouraging around the efficacy of service dogs.”

More information on the study is available on the VAC website at


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Federal study on PTSD service dogs not sitting well with some advocates

Post by Guest on Tue 22 Aug 2017, 06:01

Federal study on PTSD service dogs not sitting well with some advocates

'VAC is fiddling while Rome burns,' says Royal Canadian Air Force veteran

By Kayla Hounsell, CBC News Posted: Aug 22, 2017

Medric Cousineau says his own service dog, Thai, changed his life in 2012. He says she can sense when he has a dissociative episode and will start bumping into him if he doesn't pay attention to her.

Some veterans advocates aren't pleased with the results of the first phase of a federal study intended to assess the effectiveness and safety of psychiatric service dogs used by people who live with post-traumatic stress disorder.

The study, commissioned by Veterans Affairs Canada through the Canadian Institute for Military and Veteran Health Research, found nine positive effects of service dogs on symptoms of PTSD and two "major undesirable effects."

The positive effects include the detection, prevention and control of crisis, improved sleep, reduction of nightmares, better concentration, improved self-confidence and increased social participation.

The undesirable effects are difficulty accessing public spaces and knowing how to react when faced with that difficulty, and stigmatization.

Study panned

"Those two items don't come into play if you're hiding in a wood shed or living in your basement or cut off from society," said Medric Cousineau, a Royal Canadian Air Force veteran and co-founder of Paws Fur Thought, an organization that pairs service dogs with veterans and first responders.

Cousineau placed 10 of the service dogs used in the study.

He said his own life changed dramatically after he was lowered onto a fishing vessel in distress off the coast of Newfoundland in 1986 to rescue five fishermen, two of whom had been seriously injured.

Couinseau said his own service dog, Thai, changed his life in 2012.

Veterans advocate and former Nova Scotia MP Peter Stoffer said Veterans Affairs Canada needs to do a better job of educating the public about what service dogs do.

"If I start to have a dissociative episode, she can smell the change in my biochemistry and she'll start bumping into me and if I don't pay attention to her, she will escalate her behaviour and become pretty darn animated to get me to get back in the game," he said.

Veterans advocate and former Nova Scotia NDP MP Peter Stoffer disagreed with the findings.

"I would assume that the people who made those assessments don't have a service dog themselves," he said.

'They're not therapy dogs'

Twenty-two stakeholders were interviewed for the study, six of whom were veterans who live with PTSD.

"When it comes to the stigmatization, that's just an image problem that DVA has," said Stoffer.

"What they should be doing is educating the general public about what service dogs really are. They're not therapy dogs, they are service dogs."

In addition to the efficacy study, the federal government is also working to establish national standards to ensure psychiatric service dogs are properly trained.

Study to be completed in 2018

"I understand there's way more research to be done beyond what they've done, but in the interim VAC is fiddling while Rome burns," said Cousineau.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Veterans Affairs Canada said "VAC has undertaken this evidence-based approach to ensure that service dogs for veterans meet acceptable training and behavioural standards."

The spokesperson said that evidence could help make the case for funding for service dogs. The full study is expected to be complete by July 2018.


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