Are you curious about exactly what the DAWG Foundation stands for, and why we do what we do? See below; this is a copy of a speech Joe Spencer of the DAWG Foundation gave to the Houston Philanthropic Society earlier this year…
Good evening! I’m Joe Spencer, and I am the Media Director for the DAWG Foundation. We are a fairly new 501(c)3, having celebrated our 1 year anniversary this past April.
I’m a US Navy veteran…I spent 6 years on submarines (1997-2003).
DAWG stands for “Dogs Assisting Wounded G.I.s.” Founded in 2014 by Pat Mahon, the goal of the organization was to bring two aspects of his life together; dogs, and veterans. You see, Pat’s wife,
Pennie, is a world-renowned canine trainer that holds scores of international titles for dog competitions in the frisbee arena. She and Pat own and operate Barks 5th Avenue, a local business located at FM 1960 & Jones Rd, catering to everything dog-related, for the past 15 years. Pat’s son, Jeremy, ties in the military portion of this passion; Jeremy served at about the same time I did, except he had a much tougher job than I did; Jeremy was a Marine infantryman that saw extensive action in Iraq, including in and around Saddam’s Baghdad palace.
Jeremy expressed a growing concern to his father about the number of suicides he was seeing among combat veterans, including many of his friends from the Corps. The cause of this was Post Traumatic
Stress Disorder, or PTSD. Pat immediately began researching service dogs and PTSD, and found that, with the resources he had available through Barks 5th Avenue, there might be a way to help.
Thus, the DAWG Foundation was born.
Our mission statement is simple: The DAWG Foundation provides PROPERLY-trained service dogs to U.S. Military veterans in the greater Houston area who suffer from COMBAT-related
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, at no financial cost to the veteran.
While this may not seem like an extensive need, I would like to offer some statistics that support how essential our mission is to our Houston veterans:
*There are roughly 187,000 military veterans in Harris County.
*This number is projected to grow by 15,800 veterans per YEAR for the next 5 years.
(Community Impact News Vol 6 Issue 9 May 21-June 17, 2015)
*30% of military veterans are diagnosed with some form of quantifiable PTSD symptoms. That is
56,100 veterans with PTSD in Harris County alone.
*Approx. 8,000 military veterans commit suicide every year, or 21.9 suicides a day. These are successful suicides…this statistic does not include attempts, or suicides where status as a veteran is not
*9 out of 10 combat veteran marriages end in divorce. This statistic polled veterans from Operations OIF & OEF.
Now that I’ve hit you with the depressing part, I’m sure you can see that there is a NEED for people to step in and attempt to mitigate these crazy statistics.
So, how do we do that?
First of all, we identify young dogs (around 8-13 months of age) that exhibit the personality traits and behaviors that we see in prospective service animals. This is done either with rescue dogs, or dogs donated from reputable breeders that specialize in service dogs.
About 1 in 10 dogs exhibit service dog marker behaviors. Only about 30% of the 10%, or 3 in 100 dogs identified, will actually successfully earn their service dog vest.
Our extensive training program lasts 9-12 months, and is not just for the dog. Veteran candidates are involved in the training, as well. This not only helps the dog develop a relationship with the veteran,
but also begins the veteran’s training in handling their new service animal. We consider this holistic approach to the training process to offer the best chance of paring success.
The total cost for the entire training program; from animal acquisition as a young adult to training completion a year later, is about $25,000 per dog.
Cost of trainers, kenneling, feeding, veterinary care,
transportation, equipment, veteran transportation, and so much more goes into this program for each
and every dog.
These are not just obedient family pets; these dogs are taught specific tasks related to the PTSD symptoms and needs of the veteran. Such as:
“Perimeter”…the service dog confidently paces in an arc in front of the veteran, essentially keeping
away other people. This is a very useful tool for PTSD veterans, considering fear of crowded spaces
(such as bars or concerts) is a very common symptom.
“Brace” ….we have a few veterans that are prone to black-outs. When the veteran feels an episode
coming on, the veteran will inform their service dog to BRACE, and he/she will kick all four legs out
for better balance, and provide a solid foundation with which the veteran can stabilize themselves, or
lower themselves down to a safe sitting position.
“Fetch” …Okay, I know you all know fetch…but this isn’t a thrown stick…this is Fetch on crack. The service dog will learn to pick up items and bring them to their veteran (keys, phone, whatever). This is particularly handy for veterans with physical challenges.
These are just a few of the dozens of commands a service dog will learn at the DAWG Foundation.
The majority of the training, however, isn’t based on command, but the development of habits and
reflexes that the dog will do without being told to in advance. This is where the real value comes in.
When a service dog recognizes that their veteran partner is experiencing heightened anxiety because of,
say, being in a crowded bar, the service dog will literally lead the veteran partner out of the bar to get
some ‘fresh air’….but not before utilizing its other tools to calm down the veteran (such as ‘leaning’
against their leg to help calm them down, etc). These behaviors are the true lifesavers of veterans with PTSD.
Have you ever seen a dog wake someone up when they’re having a nightmare? Veterans battling PTSD frequently have nightmares. Dogs who can safely wake their veteran partner will help them reduce anxiety and hopefully lead a better life.
One of the most exciting side effects of a veteran/service dog partnership is less reliance on pharmaceuticals for management of moods and symptoms. Dogs are NOT a “magic pill”, but they
have consistently demonstrated that their presence in the lives of veterans battling PTSD reduces dependency on so many medications.
So, stress is reduced, medication necessity is lessened, quality of life increases.
Suicide rates go down. Divorce rate goes down. Families are happier.
PTSD cannot be eradicated or cured. It can be managed.
Our founder, Pat, likes to tell people this: “The good thing about helping veterans with PTSD is that it only takes money. The Bad thing about it is that the only thing it takes is money!”
Right now, even with having a robust social media campaign, we are only able to produce a handful of dogs per year.
Remember that 30% PTSD stat I threw at you earlier? 56,100 veterans in our area?
At our current rate of funding, if we only had to provide service dogs for the top 10% of the 56,100 in
our area, it would take us over 100 years to train all of the dogs. 100 years.
We always ask our supporters to bring information on the DAWG Foundation before their employers.
We hope to develop corporate partnerships to increase awareness, funding, and thus produce more
successful service dog/veteran teams. Anything helps, and we greatly appreciate everyone in the Houston area who supports us.
I’d like to finish up by restating the DAWG Foundation mission statement.
The DAWG Foundation provides PROPERLY-trained service dogs to U.S. Military veterans in the greater Houston area who suffer from COMBAT-related Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, at
no financial cost to the veteran.
Thank you for taking the time to listen to me ramble about our Foundation. We do appreciate your advice, and support!