Welcome To The Veteran Talk Show
April 10, 2021

EP13: Navy Veteran Saving Veteran Lives With Military Working Dogs & Service Dogs

EP13: Navy Veteran Saving Veteran Lives With Military Working Dogs & Service Dogs

Season 2 of “The David Johnson Show” - The Veteran Talk Show continues with an enlightening episode with Ms. Danique Masingill, President/Founder of Leashes of Valor, who discusses her work with military dogs to help post-9/11 war veterans.

In her capacity as LOV’s president, Danique is at the forefront of efforts to advance both the law and science surrounding service dogs. Danique’s knowledge and experience helped quickly establish her as a canine expert. Congress, The Department of Transportation, the Government Accountability Office, and the airline industry have all tapped Danique’s expertise to craft wide-ranging policies governing service dogs and military canines.

For years, the U.S. military has enlisted military working dogs for various aspects of detection, apprehension, and other tactical duties. Dogs were used in this capacity in WWI and WW2 as well as in Korea and Vietnam. In fact, there were some 3,700 military dogs sent to work with the soldiers in Vietnam. By contrast, only 117 dogs were used in Operation Desert Storm, according to the U.S. War Dog Association.

Danique Masingill background

While serving five years in the Navy, Danique Masingill first learned about military service dogs. The lightbulb that went off for Danique was that she was seeing dogs being used in life-saving areas like in mental health, trauma, PTSD and other areas related to combat-repercussions. Previously, she had only known dogs to be used for military detection work, apprehension work, the types of tactical needs tactical work.

She saw a path in creating an organization for 9/11era veterans to help get through their combat trauma with the help of military dogs. Today, Leashes of Valor is a national non-profit working to provide post-9/11 veterans with highly-trained service dogs to help them limit the symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), for example. The mission of Leashes of Valor is to bring veterans in need of companionship together with service dogs in order to enrich and improve both lives. It’s a very worthy mission.

We are thrilled to share Danique’s story with military veterans. To learn more about Danique, read this article from her college alumni magazine.

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Transcript

Danique Masingill:  [0:00] Honestly, he was drinking himself to sleep in his basement every night, he was heavily abusing any prescription drug the Marine Corps gave him and he said he was ready to put a gun in his mouth.

[0:10] Getting that dog literally got him out of his basement, got him a purpose, got him back in his community, got him around his tribe and his people. He really found his calling.

[0:21] [music]

David Johnson:  [0:21] This is a story about people. It's one of my favorite stories of a military veteran who transitioned and through time climbed to the top and became an expert in her industry. We're joined today by US Navy veteran, president and co‑founder of Leashes of Valor, Danique Masingill. Thanks for coming out.

Danique:  [1:15] David, thank you so much for having me.

David:  [1:18] I never know where to start these types of episodes, because we're going to get into a lot. We will get into a lot, but take me back, as most veterans and how I like to start it, of your time in the Navy and your transition out. Let's start there.

Danique:  [1:32] I'm a post‑9/11 joiner. I joined because of September 11th. I joined the Navy specifically, because I wanted law enforcement in my contract. K9 law enforcement always was a passion and a goal. Did five years in the military. Never actually picked up leash myself as a dog handler, but adopted a retired working dog my last year in.

[1:54] When he was deemed no longer serviceable, I put in the paperwork. It took about nine months to get him. My last year in the service, that was probably the most profound experience, is having a retired working dog and working with K9s.

David:  [2:08] I heard this story, but I did not realize you did it when you were still active duty. I heard about the adoption, and we'll get into that later. Your last year in active duty, you adopted a retired working dog.

Danique:  [2:19] Yes.

David:  [2:19] Wow. Tell me about, then, your transition out of the Navy. I think there's a story there that a lot of people need to hear.

Danique:  [2:27] [laughs] That working dog was put down. I was out of the military 30 days later, so it was definitely a very profound transition. I thought I was going to do 20, so transition for me was rough. I was very rudderless, if you want to call that. I became a military spouse for a while. I tried the voc rehab, all kinds of other things.

[2:48] Then through using my GI bill, I stumbled into the service dog community at college. Another veteran was getting a dog, and I'm like, "What is this service dog thing you speak of?"

David:  [2:58] [laughs]

Danique:  [2:58] Through that, it completely changed every trajectory, I thought I was going to, I don't know, be a dental hygienist or library and information science major. I found my calling. I changed my degree. Really started hitting the heavy hitters in the industry. I'm like, "I need to learn from you guys." That's what I've been doing ever since, basically.

David:  [3:19] Learn from you about the service dog industry?

Danique:  [3:21] Anything K9.

David:  [3:22] Anything K9.

Danique:  [3:23] Basically soup to nuts.

David:  [3:24] What about that experience when your classmate was it, you said? Who made you shift your studies, what was it?

Danique:  [3:34] It wasn't so much her getting the dog. It was the entire concept of dogs being used in that capacity because I was only used to military working dogs, which is detection work, apprehension work, much more tactical national security‑related, not mental health, trauma, PTSD, veteran suicide.

[3:51] It was this eye‑opening experience of these force multipliers that we use in the service are also what's keeping my boys alive, and my girls alive at this point. It was that tool that I loved so much in the service, I can still work with that after the service and make a huge difference.

David:  [4:10] Let's dive right in then. In my mind, the way I break this down and I'm the least qualified person to break this down, but you have the military working dog, and then you have the service dog that ‑‑ let's say our community is geared towards the veterans with PTSD and other issues. Those are two separate dogs, right?

Danique:  [4:31] Yes, absolutely. Military working dogs usually sent‑trained for detection work like explosives and drugs.

[4:39] Service dogs are tasked‑trained, meaning they interrupt your behavior that you do, often self‑destructive behavior, self‑soothing behavior, like people who twist their wedding band when they start contemplating things, beard‑stroking, hair twirling. These are all self‑soothing behaviors like when children suck their thumb.

[4:59] As adults, as anxiety builds and things, we start displaying those same mannerisms. We teach the dog to interrupt those. Ours is a task‑based service.

David:  [5:09] Let's start with the military working dog, and everything opened my eyes when I first started talking with you a few months ago. Military working dogs date back as far as Vietnam.

Danique:  [5:24] We were still using spears and swords when we actually already utilized dogs within combat. Officially, World War I, we started using them in the trenches. World War II, they became very heavy, especially in the Pacific.

[5:39] Then Vietnam, that's the legendary one where we really didn't bring them home. We did not transport the dogs home like we did our troops. That left a huge rift not only in the canine and military community, but that trauma for these veterans that were dog handlers then is still not over. I still meet Vietnam veterans.

David:  [6:00] We transported the dog there with their handler, but we never brought the dog home.

Danique:  [6:05] They were either released or euthanized.

David:  [6:07] That's got to be rough emotionally for the handler.

Danique:  [6:11] Oh, absolutely.

David:  [6:12] Because the handler develops his bond with the dog.

Danique:  [6:15] It's another living creature that the military is turning into a disposed line item. For especially the Vietnam era generation, what did that already premonition for their return home to?

David:  [6:31] How have dogs been used in the global war on terror in the past 20 years?

Danique:  [6:37] Our canine program wasn't what it is today. When 9/11 struck, especially special operations really didn't have any canine capabilities to speak of like we do now. Regular military, it was not used operationally especially for explosive detection at the point is we are now.

[6:57] Same with multipurpose canines. The entire special operations program was pretty much born after 9/11 as we realized this force‑multiplying capability really needs to be exactly where our tier‑one people are going, and we didn't have that ready.

David:  [7:11] Breakdown when you say, "Force multiplier." What does it actually mean, as it relates to the canine?

Danique:  [7:17] One dog going with an entire unit. That one dog can keep the entire unit safe. What they're capable of finding, you can't beat with a machine. It never can be replicated that way. These dogs from a mental health aspect, but also what they're doing for the unit, what they're doing for, honestly, national security.

[7:40] We, for example, didn't do [inaudible] . We didn't search explosives that were moving. We learned that after 9/11 from vests. People are moving with explosives on them.

[7:53] We actually also had to adapt our training methodologies, and our response to new threats as they come to our country, and that includes also what we're teaching our dogs to do, what we're teaching our dogs to find, and how.

David:  [8:06] Two questions. The war has changed a lot from 2003 when I was in Iraq to even another five years later, tactics have changed, equipment has changed. What are some of the things how this industry, military working dogs, have changed? Maybe the training, who gets them, the handlers, and the good, the bad, the lessons learned throughout, maybe, call it the first decade of the war.

Danique:  [8:30] [laughs] That's a very big loaded question over the entire industry.

[8:35] [laughter]

David:  [8:35] How did it start? Say, 2003, 2001, 2, 3, when Afghanistan kicked off, Iraq kicked off, what were some of the early...?

[8:42] [crosstalk]

Danique:  [8:43] Early dog handlers are really MPs going downrange. Originally dogs were used with MPs as...

[8:50] [crosstalk]

David:  [8:50] You wanted...in the Navy, the MP, and OK, I put two and two together. All right, I'm with you.

Danique:  [8:56] We were using them basically sending cop buddies of mine that were law enforcement trained over there to do explosive detection work with dogs. With units, they never worked with. These are also Navy working with Army, we don't even speak the same language. It was a lot of adaptations over the years.

[9:17] Then also our capabilities. Meeting our capabilities of the amount of dogs we're able to produce that can consistently meet target of alerting on odor, for example. You're putting your life in these dogs' hands.

David:  [9:31] In the early days of the war, were these MPs...Obviously, they had training, but maybe not a lot of real‑world experience. Do you think they were prepared for this?

Danique:  [9:43] I don't think any of our troops are necessarily prepared for what we were walking into over there, from a dog handler aspect. There's a lot of things they learned on the fly. It's the expansion of the program and trying to figure out...

[9:57] The special operations started getting kennels and dogs, so they basically took their own budget and started doing their own thing for their own capabilities. I think the Army started a TED program, which they gave basic infantry people a dog on leash and had them going out doing detection work, too. It's very limited training, which is, again, very concerning.

David:  [10:17] Would you say there was a high success right there?

Danique:  [10:21] The TED dogs were, probably for moral support, tremendous. From a statistics of detection, I don't think it was that good. The program has completely been phased out. It was a huge scandal at the end, because DoD didn't even close it appropriately either.

David:  [10:39] Wow. Sticking with the military working dogs, and I'm going to ask you the same question for both the service dog and military working dog, I've heard you say numerous times, they feed through the leash, or they feel it through the leash. What's the expression?

Danique:  [10:52] It feeds through the leash.

David:  [10:55] It feeds through the leash, so the dog can feel the emotion of their handler.

Danique:  [11:01] Mm‑hmm.

David:  [11:02] The handler has to do a lot of things way above my pay grade, but has to understand how to handle their own emotion? Is that proper to say that? If he gets anxious, or nervous, or scared, the dog feels that?

Danique:  [11:16] Yes.

David:  [11:19] Is the dog trained to deal with that, or is the dog trained to task ‑‑ go sniff out a bomb ‑‑ so if the handler is all flipping out, the dog is going to flip out and not do the dog's task?

Danique:  [11:29] I actually could not honestly tell you if they're trained on that at Lackland at the military training institute. If the handler isn't capable of managing that, it's a risk for both of them. That exact reaction that the dog has is what we're counting on in the service dog world.

[11:48] If the dog starts acting a fool, it's probably because there's something feeding through the leash from you. Meaning, if there's something wrong with your dog, you need to start doing some self‑reflection of the leash and figure out what's going on internally.

David:  [11:59] You tell the person that, the human, like, "If your dog's..."

Danique:  [12:01] That's what we train during the training of the service dog. That's exactly what we say. When the dog starts acting up, and they get frustrated ‑‑ "Why is he not doing this? Why is he not doing this?" What is going on with you?

David:  [12:10] Yeah. [laughs] Look internally first.

Danique:  [12:14] Same with military working dogs. There's some phenomenal stories out there where handlers had to take a closer look at their dog and figure out what mannerisms are off. What's not right? What, when, or a training scenario, do I need to set up to get that dog's confidence back up so that they can go out there and do their job for all of us?

David:  [12:35] What's the ‑‑ I don't know what the term is ‑‑ command, governing body? You mentioned Lackland. Is there a rigid chain of command in the military for this whole environment of working dogs?

Danique:  [12:48] Most of the policy is stuck under NDAA, so National Defense Authorization Act. Every year something new about canines is in there. The overall training and breeding program is under the 341st training wing out of Lackland Air Force Base. That's for all military working dogs, except special operations.

David:  [13:06] They have their own training.

Danique:  [13:07] They have their own procurement training, kennel. Dev group has their own kennel. They do their own thing. They're meant for different capabilities at different levels, and that's why it's separate.

David:  [13:17] This is going to go both on military and service. Do the working dogs burn out and get tired and can no longer do their job?

Danique:  [13:24] Yes. The military working dogs, just like humans, are susceptible to PTSD, TBI, so they have the same injuries. We've had corpsman that have done life‑saving measures on dogs, zero training, field amputations.

[13:40] It's crazy what dogs are capable of surviving, but also what will burn them out. That PTSD is real, physical age, but also, sometimes dogs won't survive grief. If a handler is killed, sometimes the dog has to be retired. That's service dog and working dog. I've seen it on both sides.

David:  [14:02] What's the method now of retiring military working dogs?

Danique:  [14:07] According to the NDAA and everything, it is all hunky‑dory. They have to be brought stateside and retired to a former handler. Has that trickled down to actually tactical scenarios? No. There's no funding to bring dogs home. They are still sometimes left overseas for external organizations or private citizens to pay for their trip home, if it's possible.

David:  [14:32] Would you say it's much more in the limelight now than it was in prior wars, this topic?

Danique:  [14:38] I think that the war on terror definitely brought a huge light on working dogs in a good way. It's made huge changes over the years.

David:  [14:48] On the service dog side related, tell me about your background and knowledge of ‑‑ we're going to get into how the dogs are trained everything like that ‑‑ but the connection the human has to the dog and why it helps.

Danique:  [15:05] The bond is...Again, for military and service dog handler, it's the same thing. I don't even know how to describe that relationship. It can be a make‑or‑break scenario. It often replaces when people have survivor's guilt or that relationship you have with other people in your unit. Dogs are one of the few things that are capable of replacing that, from a trust and loyalty aspect.

David:  [15:36] Interesting.

Danique:  [15:36] That usually fits a very small niche that we're missing when we get out.

David:  [15:43] Your organization specifically, let's talk about that in a second. Then, we're going to bring this all full circle. What do you guys do, and how do you do it? You have an entire...Call it the ranch, the farm. You have a program that trains the dogs. The service member comes, gets introduced to the dog, meets the dog, stays for 16‑some days with the dog. Both go through training, right? Talk to me about that.

Danique:  [16:08] Our program is what we call a residential program, meaning the veteran comes to train with us for 16 days. Long before that part of match.com happens...

David:  [16:16] [laughs]

Danique:  [16:16] we have the service dog or the dog‑in‑training for up to 18 months.

David:  [16:21] 18 months.

Danique:  [16:21] That is behavior on public access training, so that they act seen not heard. They have to be able to go to a restaurant, a movie, on a cruise ship. Wherever you're going in your life, it's not supposed to be a hindrance. It's supposed to be support, so they're trained in any scenario.

[16:38] Then, through a very lengthy application, we do the match.com, where we figure out what veteran and dog would be ideally paired, because you're going to spend a lot of time together. If you don't like long walks on the beach and your dog does, it's probably not a good match. We very much go into detail on your lifestyle, your career, your family, what other pets you have, what hobbies you have.

David:  [17:02] Where are you getting your applicants on the human side?

[17:03] [crosstalk]

Danique:  [17:04] On the human side, a lot of mental health professionals, especially in the VA, are actually already referring people for service dogs.

David:  [17:11] To your organization.

Danique:  [17:11] The other is word of mouth, veteran‑to‑veteran.

David:  [17:13] So, they have to apply, per se, and this is a lengthy process to for you to understand who they are, their habits, their background, all that stuff.

Danique:  [17:22] Yes. It's about 19 pages, and it's like match.com

[17:25] [video starts]

Dog trainer:  [17:26] Richard, meet Carrie.

Richard Robertson:  [17:28] Hi, I'm Richard Robertson. I'm from Royston, Georgia. I spent five years in the United States Navy, where I was a signalman for two and a master‑at‑arms for three years. I was struggling with PTSD and anxiety. Once I was able to admit that, I found Leashes of Valor.

Dog trainer:  [17:48] There you go.

Richard:  [17:50] I am super‑excited to be here. I want to have a more comfortable life, where anxiety doesn't take control as often, and to really come out of here a better person for me and for my family.

Dog trainer:  [18:04] Richard, meet Carrie.

Richard:  [18:06] This is perfect.

[18:07] [video ends]

David:  [18:07] You can't just put any human with any dog. There has to be, like you said, that match.

Danique:  [18:23] Not only that. I need to know about your mannerisms, your behaviors, what makes you tic.

David:  [18:29] Are you doing that to accurately select the service member? Let me rephrase. I don't like my question. Do you take all service members and you just want to find the right dog, or is there some service members where you say, "I'm sorry, I can't help you."

Danique:  [18:44] The application is a one‑stop shop to eliminate most of those things. If we don't determine that in the application, it's usually determined in post‑application interviews where we ask further questions, but we will turn people down through that application.

David:  [18:59] What are you looking for then in the service member?

Danique:  [19:01] For our program you need to be post‑9/11. Ideally honorable discharge, but we will look at that. It has to be a valid diagnosis of PTSD, TBI or MST.

David:  [19:14] Post‑9/11, valid diagnosis of PTSD, TBI, like you just said, so if they meet that check‑the‑box criteria, then you look at them as a person, their personality, their habits, stuff like that. Wow, it's pretty in depth.

Danique:  [19:29] If you have anger management issues, active substance abuse issues, those are for example, automatic nos. I'm not going to give a dog to somebody who can't manage their anger because it can be taken out on the animal. I do have a responsibility to the dogs as well.

[19:44] Substance abuse, the dog is not getting a good read on you. If you're self‑medicating, so how are they ever going to alert on what's going on when you're drunk or high the whole time? There's no point in somebody who's self‑medicating at that level to give them a dog. A dog can't work with that.

David:  [20:02] It's a process, you the service member gets approved, and we at Leashes of Valor, we'll find a dog that fits you.

Danique:  [20:11] It's a little bit chicken and egg. Sometimes we have an applicant. We're like we have a dog that would be perfect for him. We start the scheduling and the detailed training to that person's actual triggers is what we're going to call it.

[20:25] Other times, we'll get an applicant where you're absolutely approved, but we need to figure out what dogs going to be best for you. Then they're probably pushed down several more months until we figure out where they need to be.

David:  [20:36] I knew this was going to happen. I have so many questions. [laughs] You select a human, and I get the human process now. Very clear, and I knew nothing about that. How do you select the dog then? The type of breed, the type of...There's one side of the match.com. How do you bring in the canine match?

Danique:  [20:54] The canine match, some of it is physical attributes. We don't do toy breeds or bully breeds. Some of that is, I'm not going to give a 300‑pounds, six‑foot‑four Marine a little yorkie poo named Angel. That's not helping.

[21:10] Some of them are also for mobility. They need to be a certain size to be able to take at least 30 percent additional weight on. If you have back problems or issues getting up, there's dogs that can assist with some mobility.

David:  [21:23] Yep. I get it.

Danique:  [21:24] Then health, temperament. If the dog has health issues like hips and elbow problems, like long‑term things, that would retire a dog early, or they need constant medication because the dog's diabetic, not going to give somebody basically a money pit. That's what we're going to call it. It shouldn't be a financial burden either.

David:  [21:41] I was going to ask that, and I wasn't going to ask, but when you said, "Money pit," so now I will ask it. The owner of the dog, now I own this dog, This is my dog, my responsibility. Feed, go to the vet, medical, everything, this is my dog.

[21:55] The human ‑‑ well, I'll get to that question in a second. You mentioned these triggers. The first time we spoke, and we were briefly having this conversation, you mentioned, even if a service member's having a bad nightmare, the dog will recognize that.

Danique:  [22:14] Nightmares is probably the most interesting part for me because that's never an alert I've seen in action. Obviously, I'm not in the room with my warriors when they're sleeping, but it is...It usually happens on the farm.

[22:28] In that 16‑day program already at some point, they will get in the main house in the morning for breakfast, and be like, "Dude, radar or whichever dog it was, totally woke me up last night." I'm like, "Tell me the story." We train the dogs on how to alert.

[22:46] For you, if you had leg tapping going on, the dog would be trained to either put a paw on your foot or your knee. That's to give you awareness like, "Hey bro, you might want to take a minute."

David:  [22:58] The service member then is trained to realize if the dog...because it interrupts their thought.

Danique:  [23:02] Take a fake smoke break, basically. Go out for five.

David:  [23:05] This all comes in the training because as much as you train the dog, you got to train the service member how to use the dog? How to interact with the dog?

Danique:  [23:12] Yes. Then through that bond, we talked about earlier, which the 16‑day program, the dog is attached to you the whole time through that leash. That new umbilical cord I just gave you, so you can feed all the info to your dog. Through that, they learn your good and your bad.

[23:27] When the warrior's sleeping at night, if it's an auditory or more of a physical nightmare where you're tossing and turning or the people that start saying things, the dogs will usually climb onto bed, either lick their face or start putting pressure like a blanket on them. Sometimes they'll Mazel‑punch you. You can't win them all that happens.

David:  [23:45] [laughs] It happens. To wrap up how this program works, the service member comes to the farm. Sleeps there for 16 days. Spends, I assume, most of his waking time with the dog. Your training, is it more training of the dog as well, or is that really for the service member?

Danique:  [24:04] By the time the service member arrives at the farm, the dog's already passed public access. I would never give a dog out that wasn't a 100 percent ready. I'd rather push a warrior back and be like, "Bro, your dog needs another month because that's what's necessary."

[24:18] That 16 days is really just to teach the veteran how to use your new wheels if that's what you want to...It's a prosthetic for the brain, but I still need to teach you how to use that tool to actually be successful with it.

David:  [24:29] What do you teach? Give me a few examples.

Danique:  [24:33] Think about having a dog attached to you while you're doing dishes and loading a dishwasher. There's two kids running around the house. Make sure your dog's not in the dishwasher. There's a lot of things where it's a new appendage too, in a way. That's going to be close to you all the time because they can't do their job if they're not close to you.

[24:54] That just sky‑lined your entire mental health, so we're also walking you into public. We're walking you into Target, Walmart, Sam's Club. Your worst nightmare when it comes to going out and getting your anxiety exposed, guess what? Field trip. We're all going with the dog. We're not going to let you fall. This is like sea trials.

David:  [25:14] You go out to eat out with them out in public.

Danique:  [25:16] We're going to dinner. We're going to a movie. If our current guy's a disc golfer, we're going disc golfing. Make sure you know how to use your dog while you're disc golfing if that's what you got to do.

David:  [25:28] Tell me how this is happening in the real world? Give me some stories, people that graduated your program.

[25:33] I've read, and I'm totally going to mess this up and look like an ass clown right now, I read all about your organization before we got involved. It's absolutely phenomenal. I understand your CEO was a Marine Corps veteran who got injured and had a service dog really helped him out.

Danique:  [25:50] Jason, one of our co‑founders and CEO, we've worked together for seven years at several organizations. Honestly, he was drinking himself to sleep in his basement every night. He was heavily abusing any prescription drug the Marine Corps gave him.

[26:08] He said he was ready to put a gun in his mouth. Three kids, wife upstairs. He would send his wife to 7‑Eleven to get him his cigarettes and his beer. He was the guy hiding in his basement.

[26:20] Getting that dog literally got him out of his basement. Got him a purpose. Got him back into his community. Got him around his tribe and his people. He really found his calling. He wasn't that into dogs. He's that into helping other warriors, and that dog led him to his purpose.

David:  [26:40] I don't know how to ask this. I get the task stuff you mentioned, the paw, I'm waking up, the nightmare, I get it. Does a lot of it or any of it have to do with just the bond? I have somebody who's going to accept me for who I am. This dog is going to love me, and me as a human, I feel that love. I want to be loved. Does that help pull people out of the shit?

Danique:  [27:06] 100 percent. You'd be amazed how many people are gaining the same benefit just from having a pet at home.

[27:13] There's something to be said for that loyalty and that relationship with the dog, for sure. It has nothing to do with the task part, it is also for you to be able to rely on someone. That bond burns deep. It's hard to describe, but that bond burns really deep. Giving up a dog, losing a dog, any of those, you will see devastating changes in the human.

David:  [27:35] I need a dog. [laughs] Your organization is doing some amazing things with a medical facility out there, and I'm going to forget the name as I did earlier, [laughs] but you're doing actual research in a medical facility. Tell me what that research is about and why?

Danique:  [28:00] We're in a research partnership with Thomas Jefferson College of Nursing, and the Thomas Jefferson Health System. It's primarily if you think about veterans that are not currently being able to prescribe service dogs. We can't get that. There's two bills on the hill that are trying to force another pilot for vets to get dogs.

[28:19] If you consider the prescription aspect of getting any kind of tool for any kind of issue, meaning aspirin, the reliability of prescription is not there. You can't prescribe a dog currently because there's no level one or level four of whatever they're supposed to cure. Meaning there's no medical data or evidence behind it.

[28:39] The VA is not going to spend, as a federal agency, that kind of money without any data behind that treatment methodology.

David:  [28:46] Let me interrupt to stop you before we go down that path. Anybody now, service member in our great nation getting a service dog is from a private nonprofit or private entity. None of this is government‑backed. Is that accurate or no?

Danique:  [28:59] Yes.

David:  [29:03] It's because everything you just mentioned, the VA, you can't say I'm prescribing this dog to X because it's a medical code or something. There's no actual that data hasn't been written up yet. That's what you're trying to study.

Danique:  [29:17] Right now, we just finished phase 1 of the research study and that is to determine the efficacies of pairings.

[29:24] Interviewing service members that have service dogs and finding out the success stories to start narrowing down where did success story dogs come from? Because you want to be able for a mental health provider to be like, "This guy that came to my clinic today, definitely has all the criteria to be successful."

[29:41] Also as a shrink or psychologists, you should be able to say, "You're not in a place for that treatment methodology right now." Currently, they don't have the power to say that because I don't have the knowledge.

David:  [29:51] None of that has to do with the dog. That's all on the human side.

Danique:  [29:54] Yeah, that's just getting a prescription.

Danique:  [29:56] That's just saying you are...If I go to the doctor and I have a fever, he says, "OK, here's whatever. I've pinkeye. Here's whatever." You're trying to get it to a point where a human could walk in, the human can say, "I have PTSD," and you can get actually prescribed a dog.

Danique:  [30:11] Yes, confidently is the key. There's so many organizations out there and the entire industry is unregulated. Currently, you couldn't even confidently prescribe a dog and guarantee your patient is going to get a dog from a quality organization that's going to do what you as a mental health provider want that dog to do for that person.

David:  [30:31] More and more I listen, this is so...

[30:33] [laughter]

[30:33] [crosstalk]

Danique:  [30:33] complicated.

David:  [30:34] It's equal dog as it is human. You have to understand why the dog's being prescribed to better that human. No name dropping, but to other people in the industry, people that have a passion, and they want to get into it, so they get dogs and train it and do the same thing.

Danique:  [30:59] Not quite.

[31:00] [crosstalk]

Danique:  [31:01] There's a lot of passionate organizations that really are coming from a good place and producing quality dogs. Then there's money to be made. Of course, anytime there's money to be made, there's also less than reputable players in the field. There's definitely organizations that either charge for the dog. That's a $25,000...

David:  [31:23] Charge this member?

Danique:  [31:24] Charge the service member for a dog, which we give ours out for free. Majority of organizations do. You can buy a service dog for 25 to 50 thousand dollars.

David:  [31:36] Back to the research that you're doing. You're trying to take all the data. Are you reaching out to your past warriors? Why are you gathering all this data?

Danique:  [31:46] Any of our graduates obviously go through the research study and then through social media. We've opened it up to anybody who's gotten a service dog because I want data from all across the country and a variety of it to get a better picture.

David:  [31:58] How do they get hold of you?

Danique:  [32:00] They go directly to research at leashesofvalor.org, and they send that email address that they'd like to participate and it's completely redacted from me and everybody else. Once they're in the research study, I don't know the details either.

David:  [32:15] Then you're trying to understand from that, break it down then from the human, did it work? Did it not work? What are you actually trying to get out of it? What their diagnosis was?

Danique:  [32:29] Some of it's also just looking at money and all these other treatment methodologies that are out there. Is a dog just a more effective less invasive way to treat the same thing? Like there's mental health drugs, there's all kinds of other ways to get at PTSD, but it is not a one‑size‑fits‑all.

[32:47] We're trying to a narrow down the success group on who would benefit? How to prescribe that? How to get policy to back it up? I'll be very old by the time this is done probably.

David:  [33:00] Speaking of that, and my mind's ADD is all over the place, with people, especially coming out of maybe some of the special operations units. We've talked about this on the show. They don't maybe want to ask for help. They go into a secluded place.

[33:15] These dogs might help with that. I'm sure you've seen it have the person open up a little bit, or at least, engage that bond again on some kind of level. Are you sure that's accurate?

Danique:  [33:26] Absolutely. Especially special operations community, I think is probably the most difficult one to reach from giving them something that makes an injury visible.

David:  [33:38] What would you want to tell people, civilians, that see us, maybe a service member with a dog in public? What is there a perception there that you think happens?

Danique:  [33:50] For starters, the worst thing people could ever do is catcall a dog, talking to the dog. Would you talk to your friend's prosthetic or wheelchair?

David:  [33:59] No.

Danique:  [34:00] First of all, it's somebody very close personal space and you're literally in a store, "Oh, my God. Look, there's a dog." You just skyline that entire person's mental health in front of an entire store. That is probably one of the most uncomfortable feelings. Maybe affording people a little more privacy on whatever is going on.

David:  [34:24] This is amazing. This is absolutely amazing. What's next with you and then the organization and where are you guys headed?

Danique:  [34:34] Growing the service dog program obviously is project number one and then influencing the long‑term effects of this.

[34:42] I can only give out so many dogs per year as my organization, but if I can change the entire industry and the entire policy and if I can change the VA's prescribing system, I've made it possible for every veteran to get access to a dog which made my life a lot easier.

David:  [34:59] You set the bar to do it the right way. Prescribed it the right way for the right person.

Danique:  [35:03] Also, just expand the access to it. I can't do it all, and that's totally cool. It's not my job to do it for everyone.

David:  [35:10] Expand the access.

Danique:  [35:11] Yes, absolutely.

[35:12] [music]

David:  [35:12] Where do we learn more about your organization? How do we get hold of you?

Danique:  [35:18] Leashesofvalor.org, and on all the social channels you can find us again under Leashes of Valor.

David:  [35:23] Leashesofvalor.org. Check it out, doing great things for the service members in our community by providing these service dogs. Thanks so much for coming out.

Danique:  [35:32] Thank you so much for having me.