Puppies With a Purpose: Supporting America’s Veterans

with John Miller of America’s VetDogs

Research suggests that trained service dogs can help military service members and veterans struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

John Miller, President and CEO of America’s VetDogs, joins host Tetiana Anderson to discuss ways that service dogs can provide enhanced mobility and renewed independence for veterans, and how some professional sports teams are stepping up to assist with training.

Posted on:

Oct 31, 2022

Hosted by: Tetiana Anderson
Produced by: National Newsmakers Team

Anderson: Specially trained service dogs can provide a complementary treatment for veterans with PTSD. Vets report that in addition to providing companionship, their service dogs can provide a sense of comfort and security, helping them reduce anxiety, stress, and more. Hello, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Tetiana Anderson. Service dogs have specialized training, exposing them to different situations and different environments. And some sports teams are stepping up to help with that training. Joining me to discuss all of this is John Miller. He is the president and CEO of America's VetDogs. And, John, thank you so much for being here.

Miller: Thank you for having us.

Anderson: So I want to start with the issues that are seen and unseen that these veterans are dealing with. What are vet dogs helping them cope with?

Miller: Sure. So PTSD is a major issue we're seeing for troops returning back home. But, you know, we service all veterans, you know, veterans who have physical injuries, as well. As you point out, visible and invisible. PTSD is a big one. But also we've helped President Bush at the time after Mrs. Bush had passed away and the president was in a wheelchair. So we have dogs who have different types of temperaments, different energy levels, different skill sets, and really make a difference in the lives of our veterans.

Anderson: So these dogs really have to experience all aspects of human life in order to be good companions. And I know that a new way you're doing that is with this program called Puppies with a Purpose. What's involved?

Miller: Yes, it's relatively new. Last few years, we've been working and we have a living, breathing service dog in training here, Biscuit, who's with the Washington Capitals. They're sponsoring him. And the Capitals and all the teams we work with provide a great forum. They go to the games, they interact with the fans. And as you mentioned, many of our graduates lead very active lifestyles. And so the experiences they get at a stadium or arena is second to none. You know, there's a lot of people, a lot of noises, different smells, crowds. You know, we have graduates who are competitive bodybuilders who work on the railroad system. And, you know, these experiences are really tremendous. And, you know, the Puppy with a Purpose program in particular is where we work with corporations across the country and professional sports teams, and, really, look, to have the dog sponsored, it gives the team a great forum, as well. The fans love the social media generally. There's naming contests associated with the program. And really it helps three things for us. It drives awareness of the program. If somebody needs a service dog, they know where to find us. Everything we do is free of charge. So we have to raise, you know, a significant amount of money for each of these dogs. They cost roughly about $50,000 for each of them by the time they're ready to go. And, you know, we're largely a volunteer organization. So those three factors, you know, in each of the sports markets really work tremendously for us.

Anderson: And when it comes to that training, I know that some of these dogs are being trained by inmates in prisons. So the dogs are getting what they need, but so are the inmates. Explain how that relationship works.

Miller: Oh, for sure. So we have about 13 prisons that we work with largely on the East Coast from Maine to Florida. And we have, you know, trainers who help train the inmates. And, you know, it is a very much wanted, you know, position within the prison. And you have to be on your best behavior to even be considered for the program. But the fulfillment, you know, for our program is, you know, the dogs are very well-trained when they come out. They have the best, you know, foundational training they could possibly have. But they also, you know, get out for the weekend. They get furloughed for the weekend every weekend where we have five families near the prison who take them. So they have other experiences, you know, similar to what we were just talking about, as well.

Anderson: So where do some of these dogs end up going? And who are some of the people that they're working with?

Miller: So we have veterans from all across the country. We're national in scope. So we serve all 50 states. So most dogs go to individuals who have, you know, some type of visible or invisible injury from their service. You know, working with the Capitals and the other sports teams, you're really shining a light on that program. Your demand is high. But, you know, people work, you know, with the dogs. I can just tell you. One gentleman who's here in the D.C. area really had, you know, a life- changing moment with his dog and, you know, was on a number of medications. I believe it was either 12 or 13 medications. A couple of years after his dog, I think he's down to two or three different medications, and it has transformed his entire personality. And we have success stories like that all the time.

Anderson: It's absolutely tremendous. I know people are gonna want to know more about this program. What's your website? Where should they go?

Miller: So, you know, everything is on our website. Like I said, there's three things we always need. If you need a dog, you can go there. If you need -- If you want to volunteer or you want to donate, you can go to vetdogs.org.

Anderson: John Miller from America's VetDogs, thank you so much for being here.

Miller: Thank you. And Biscuit says thanks, too.

Anderson: Thank you, Biscuit, and thanks to you for watching, as well. For more great conversations with leaders in your own community and across the nation, visit comcastnewsmakers.com. I'm Tetiana Anderson.

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