Frequently Asked Questions about Operation Delta Dog
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF PTSD/TBI?
Sufferers of PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) and TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) often experience a range of debilitating symptoms that directly interfere with daily life. These include panic attacks, agoraphobia/crowd anxiety, suicidal thoughts, hyper-vigilance, nightmares/night terrors, depression, extreme anxiety, reclusive/antisocial behavior, insomnia, and trouble with balance. Medications and therapy can provide some measure of relief for those who struggle with these symptoms on a day-to-day basis. In recent years, however, many servicemembers and veterans have found that service animals can complement, or even replace, these other treatment methods. In many cases, PTSD and TBI sufferers report that their dogs have allowed them to return to a “normal” life they never would have thought possible.
HOW CAN A SERVICE DOG HELP?
Like service dogs for the blind, deaf, and physically disabled, these assistance animals are specifically trained to help people perform tasks they cannot otherwise perform for themselves. Because symptoms vary by individual, the services performed by each dog will also vary. Typically, however, the dogs will perform a variety of tasks such as: providing stability to a person who has trouble with balance; alerting to night terrors and providing comfort; helping a veteran acclimate to crowds and other social situations by creating a protective “buffer” between the veteran and other people; alerting to panic attacks and promoting a sense of calm; easing safety concerns by performing “perimeter searches” and giving the “all-clear” before the person enters a dark house; turning on light switches; and retrieving dropped items for a person who has trouble balancing and/or bending forward.
WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A SERVICE DOG AND A PET?
Service dogs are not pets. Once an animal completes service dog training, it is permitted by federal law to accompany its handler into stores, restaurants, hotels, and other public spaces where pets are typically not allowed. In most cases, service dogs wear harnesses or vests that identify them as working animals. In order to qualify as a service dog as defined by the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), the animal must master basic obedience training and also complete at least three tasks for the person that the person cannot otherwise do for themselves.
HOW IS THE ORGANIZATION FUNDED?
Funding comes primarily from individual donations, corporate sponsorships, and private foundation grants. Donation amounts can range from a few dollars to a complete team sponsorship (a team consists of one veteran and his or her dog) of $25,000 and above. We also hold regular fundraising events (such as the Walk & Wag for Veterans) to raise funds. Any and all donations are always very much appreciated.
DO YOU TRAIN DOGS FOR OTHER DISABILITIES?
At this time, we only train dogs to partner with veterans who suffer with PTSD and TBI. In the future, we hope to expand and provide service dogs to veterans with a wide range of disabilities.
WHO IS ELIGIBLE FOR A SERVICE DOG?
Veterans should meet the following criteria to be considered for our program:
- Have an official diagnosis from a health care provider of PTSD and/or TBI.
- Reside in an owned or rented home within an hour of our Training Center in Hollis, NH.
- Be able to commit to the full training process (often one year to eighteen months), which includes one or more weekly classes in Hollis, in-home individualized training sessions, and self-directed at-home training.
- If living with others, have the full support of all household members in having a service dog.
- Have the ability to care for oneself and a service dog.
HOW DOES YOUR TRAINING PROCESS WORK?
Operation Delta Dog works with professional trainers and behaviorists to identify the best canine candidates in shelters and breed-rescue foster homes. All participating dogs must meet strict guidelines relating to their temperament, health, and age. Once a suitable dog is found, he or she begins an 8-week intensive training period. During that period, the dog is matched with a veteran on our waiting list. If the two hit it off, they become a team and start living together and training together as soon as the initial 6-week training period is over. Training consists of multiple classes during the week (and lots of practice at home) and lasts approximately twelve to eighteen months. When training is complete, and if the dog passes a series of tests, he or she “graduates” from the program and becomes a certified service animal with all the protections afforded to its handler by the ADA.
HOW MUCH DOES TRAINING A SERVICE DOG COST?
There is no cost to the veteran to receive a service dog through Operation Delta Dog. Over the course of the 12-18 month training period, the organization spends approximately $25,000 to train each veteran/dog team, which includes the costs of adoption fees, training classes, insurance, basic office expenses, and veterinary care.