Service Dogs for Veterans

with John Miller of America’s VetDogs

Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, affects veterans of all age groups.

John Miller, President and CEO of America’s VetDogs, provides an in-depth look at how service dogs act as an additional layer of treatment for active duty service members and veterans.

Posted on:

Nov 04, 2019

Hosted by: Paul Lisnek
Produced by: National Newsmakers Team

Lisnek: One of the most common mental challenges veterans face when transitioning back to civilian life is post-traumatic stress disorder, commonly known as PTSD. While not a cure, service dogs have been found to help veterans with PTSD cope with symptoms including depression, nightmares and social anxiety. Hi, welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Paul Lisnek. Joining me to discuss the lifesaving benefits of service dogs for veterans is John Miller. He's the president and C.E.O. of America's Vet Dogs. John, so good to see you.

Miller: Thanks for having us.

Lisnek: I am wild about dogs, wild about animals. I love this organization because you are doing such good things for veterans. Clarify for our viewers exactly what these wonderful dogs are able to do.

Miller: You know, the dogs are life changing, and it's been a great ride at the organization. And, you know, one of the things that our dogs do really is bring hope back to folks. I've been with the organization about a year and a half, and I've had more people come up to me. More spouses, husbands and wives, come back to me after the two weeks of placement up at our campus on Long Island and hug me and say, "Thank you for giving us our spouse back. Thank you for giving me my husband back. Thank you for giving my wife back." They bring hope. They mitigate, you know, some physical disabilities. And they really work, you know, on a day-to-day basis to bring hope and joy and in some cases, physical progress as well.

Lisnek: So I know typically, you use Labs and Retrievers. That's a good dog for this. How long does it take to get one trained and up for duty?

Miller: Sure. So the process is, you know, anywhere from 15 to 18 months. You know, we breed the dogs from our campus on Long Island. We have about a 10-acre campus, about 140 people across the country who work with us and about 1,600 volunteers who really are the lifeblood of the organization. So the dogs are with us when they're born for about eight weeks. Then in this case, with America's Vet Dogs, many of the dogs go to prisons across the eastern seaboard to be raised in our prison programs. We have about 17 prisons across the country. And the good things about the prison [is they have the constant contact with the person who's training them. And once they get the basic obedience and retrieve command and they can push handicapped buttons that they learn in the prisons they come back to our campus for a good three months to be trained with the formal skills. And each of the dogs really is customized with certain skills for the veteran they're paired with. So we work very hard to make sure the right doghas the right fit and the right veteran.

Lisnek: I think it's great, even the fact that prisoners get to -- you know what I mean. This has to bring joy to them as they work with these dogs. name was Sully. Now, yes, he is named after the famous pilot, but that's not what made him famous. Tell our viewers a bit about why Sully became so famous.

Miller: Sure. So Sully, as your viewers might remember, was President George H.W. Bush's service dog. And we placed Sully with the President back in June of 2018 right after Mrs. Bush had passed. And Sully became the world's most famous dog.

Lisnek: Famous on Instagram, by the way.

Miller: Famous on Ins-- He's got almost a half million followers at this point. So, you know, @Sully H.W. Bush on his Instagram, you know, to check him out. But he worked for about six months with the President before the President passed. And then there was this iconic photo that the family released of Sully in front of the President's casket. And that photo went viral, and it really gave us all chills, you know, at the organization, everybody who works with us. But ultimately that moment and throughout the funeral and, you know, the notoriety Sully got afterwards really helped to shine a light on the services that we provide. And, you know, it did a number of different things, not only for the organization but the industry. "A," awareness of the services and what the dogs could actually do] and "B," you know, the demand significantly increased after, you know, after that time. We got about a year's worth of applications three weeks after that photo came out.

Lisnek: There was a great story about how Sully was trained to, when President Bush needed somebody, he'd hit a button and the nurse would come in and give him a treat. He learned that by hitting the button, he got a treat. Smart dog. Now Sully is currently at Walter Reed, and that's President Bush's wish.

Miller: Oh, absolutely. So upon the President's passing, it was determined that Sully would go to Walter Reed. The President wanted Sully to help as many veterans as possible, which is really consistent with the way President Bush handled himself and, you know, managed his presidency. He really was a humanitarian. And that still lives on through Sully. Lisnek: This may not be a fair question, John but do the dogs get it?

Miller: You know, I think they do. I think if you look at the photo of, you know, Sully in front of that casket, I think, you know, he got it.

Lisnek: Yeah.

Miller: I could tell you, you know, day in, day out, veterans who are not presidents, you know, they tell you that the dogs get it. You know, the bond, the eye contact, the relationships our veterans have. It's really -- it's really mind-blowing.

Lisnek: People want to reach you, how do they do that?

Miller: The easiest way to get us is

Lisnek: That's really easy. And they can make a donation, too. You need funds to do what you do.
Miller: Absolutely. We are 99% based on private donations. So we need all the help we can get.

Lisnek: Congratulations on the work you do. So important.

Miller: Thank you.

Lisnek: Wonderful. John Miller with America's Vet Dogs. Thank you for the work you do. So important. Miller: Thank you. Thank you for having us. Lisnek: And thank you for joining us as well. If you want more great conversations with leaders in your community and across the country just visit I'm Paul Lisnek. Thanks for watching.

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