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Late last week, President Biden signed into law the Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers Veterans Therapy (PAWS for Veterans Therapy) Act.  HR 1448/S 613 is a ground-breaking measure that recognizes the importance of service dogs in assisting veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), Military Sexual Trauma (MST) and other mental disorders related to their military service.

The American Kennel Club was pleased to support this measure.

“PAWS for Veterans Therapy recognizes the benefits of both dog training as occupational therapy and the benefits that specially-trained service dogs can provide to individuals with these often invisible disabilities,” said Sheila Goffe, Vice President, Government Relations for the American Kennel Club. “Thanks to the tireless leadership of Congressman Steve Stivers and Senator Thom Tillis, and many other supporters, veterans suffering from PTSD, TBI and MST can now participate in a VA program that specifically recognizes the benefits of service dogs for these disorders.”

The PAWS for Veterans Therapy Act was introduced in 2021, following the release of a Veterans Health Administration (VHA) study regarding veterans with PTSD and service dogs. The report, A Randomized Trial of Differential Effectiveness of Service Dog Pairing Versus Emotional Support Dog Pairing to Improve Quality of Life, analyzed the effectiveness of service dogs in assisting veterans with PTSD and showed that veterans paired with service dogs saw improvement on the post-traumatic stress disorder checklist (PCL–5).  The study also reported a decrease in depression and suicidal feelings.

Specifically, the measure establishes a pilot program within the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to allow veterans to gain therapy through the training of service dogs that are provided and monitored by qualified non-profit organizations. Upon completion of training by a qualified veteran, the dog may be adopted by the trainer or another qualified veteran for continuing therapy.

The AKC believes that properly trained service dogs can be invaluable to the mental and emotional health of our veterans who have sacrificed so much for our country.  The AKC has committed to working with the VA to ensure that training programs not only incorporate important aspects of occupational therapy for the trainers, but also include important standards so that dogs trained to be PTSD service dogs meet the standards and competency outcomes necessary to be effective service dogs as defined by the Americans With Disabilities Act.

The American Kennel Club strongly supports our military, veterans, and service dogs. The AKC is pleased to support numerous related programs including Service Dog Pass, an opt-in program that improves access for individuals with disabilities who rely on service dogs, while also credentialing dogs who meet rigorous standards in training and behavior, and streamlining processes for venue providers. AKC also supports the training of therapy dogs and programs that train and certify pet dogs in proper behavior, including the AKC Canine Good Citizen program.  As noted in a letter of support to Congress earlier this year, “The AKC is committed to utilizing its experience and knowledge gained from its widely acclaimed training programs to work with the VA to ensure that the pilot program properly prepares veterans to train service dogs and that the dogs trained under this program meet the highest behavioral and training standards.”