Sit! Stay! Snuggle!: An Iraq Vet & his Service Golden Retriever Tuesday

Luis Carlos Montalvan at a New York bookstore with Golden Retriever Tuesday, who goes with him everywhere and is trained to respond to signs of anxiety. Photo by Leslie Granda-Hill

I loved discovering Tuesday this Saturday morning. It will surely brighten your day as well.

Like any other golden retriever seeking a treat, Tuesday nudged his owner’s hand with his snout one recent morning and waited expectantly. Luis Carlos Montalvan got up from a chair in his small Brooklyn apartment and walked to the kitchen. Tuesday followed close behind, eyes fixed on a white cabinet. The retriever sat alertly as Mr. Montalvan, an Iraq war veteran with severe post-traumatic stress disorder, reached for a vial of pills, lined a half-dozen on the table and took them one by one.

The dog had gotten what he wanted: When the last pill was swallowed, he got up and followed his master out of the kitchen, tail wagging.

Tuesday is a so-called psychiatric-service dog, a new generation of animals trained to help people whose suffering is not physical, but emotional. They are, effectively, Seeing Eye dogs for the mind.

Tuesday is with Mr. Montalvan at all hours. Taught to recognize changes in a person’s breathing, perspiration or scent that can indicate an imminent panic attack, Tuesday can keep Mr. Montalvan buffered from crowds or deliver a calming nuzzle. Other dogs, typically golden retrievers, Labradors or Labrador retriever blends, are trained to wake masters from debilitating nightmares and to help patients differentiate between hallucinations and reality by barking if a real person is nearby.

“Tuesday is just extraordinarily empathetic,” said Mr. Montalvan, 36 years old, a retired Army captain who received a Purple Heart for wounds he suffered in Iraq. “In bad moments, he’ll lay his head on my leg, and it’ll be like he’s saying, ‘You’re OK. You’re not alone.’”

Seeing Eye dogs were first systematically trained in Germany during World War I to aid blinded veterans. Today, psychiatric-service dogs are being trained to help veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan battles. The federal government has given the dogs the same legal protections as other service animals, so Tuesday can ride the subway with Mr. Montalvan and accompany him to restaurants and theaters. But few of the dogs are available to former troops like Mr. Montalvan, one of the estimated 300,000 veterans of the two wars who will ultimately develop PTSD.

Previously, I have posted articles about Puppies Behind Bars (Iraq Vet Gets Dog, New Chance at Life and Golden Retriever ‘Puppies Behind Bars’). I am just in love with this N.Y.-based non-profit organization. They have provided service dogs to individuals with disabilities since 1997, recently having expanded their program to include war veterans. To date, they have placed psychiatric-service dogs with 11 veterans and hope to provide 14 more this year. Unfortunately, it is quite difficult, especially in these economic times, to raise the $26,000 needed to train each dog.

The group coordinates with Project Heal, from East Coast Assistance Dogs (ECAD). This program honors and empowers Wounded Warriors by providing specially trained Service Dogs to increase independence and make a difference in their lives.

I am just in love with the N.Y.-based non-profit organization Puppies Behind Bars, an organization that has provided service dogs to individuals with disabilities since 1997, recently having expanded their program to include war veterans. It is coordinated with Project Heal, from East Coast Assistance Dogs (ECAD). The program honors and empowers Wounded Warriors by providing specially trained Service Dogs to increase independence and make a difference in their lives.

Project HEAL® Service Dogs are specially trained dogs who pick up dropped objects, open and close doors, open refrigerators, pull wheelchairs, prevent overcrowding in public, interrupt nightmares and flashbacks, remind to take meds, warn of approaching strangers and reduce anxiety and stress, all the while providing unconditional love and comfort. ECAD does not charge our Wounded Warriors for these very special Service Dogs. Each veteran is provided with 13 days of Team Training instruction either in their New York or Florida facility at a cost of $500. Housing is provided at no cost.

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2 thoughts on “Sit! Stay! Snuggle!: An Iraq Vet & his Service Golden Retriever Tuesday

  1. I know with the seizure dogs there is a company that provides seizure medications that will pay for all of the animal’s training, food costs, vet care, etc. Would be nice if one of the PTSD drug companies would pick up this cost for the training organization here and the veterans, too.

    Drug companies need to recognize the value of other treatments and help provide them, too. Especially in cases like these where companionship is so important to patient well being.

  2. Pharma pay for anything but themselves . . . . ha! My pharmacist hubby sees everyday who these companies care about, and it’s not you or I. It is just massive thievery and self-promotion. Some drugs that sell for thousands actually cost pennies.

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