Retired United States Marine Corps Sergeant Major James A. Kuiken was paired with Freedom, a service dog who supports veterans with post-traumatic stress (PTS) and traumatic brain injury (TBI). Freedom empowers Kuiken to reconnect with family and friends, while recapturing the life he had withdrawn from, as he recovered from PTS and TBI.
Like other combat veterans, Kuiken thought he could manage his health on his own and it was not until he took a PTS/TBI survey from a veteran’s organization that he realized he was experiencing ongoing symptoms. For Kuiken, this was an indicator he needed help, so he researched service dogs to learn how they could recognize his PTS or TBI signs and support his recovery. From Kuiken’s experience with Freedom, the general public is unfamiliar with how service dogs assist veterans, so he provided A Head for the Future five facts everyone should know about service dogs:
- Service Dogs Are Working
Service dogs such as Freedom support their handler, and while they may not appear to be working, they are always on the clock and it is a full time job! To assist Freedom in performing his job well, let him stay focused and allow him personal space to work effectively.
- Service Dogs Are Medical Equipment
Distracting a service dog by talking, petting or drawing attention to them can impede the task they are trying to perform. The best approach to interacting with Freedom or another service dog is politely ignoring them. Yes, we know Freedom is cute, but a service dog is considered medical equipment, so please do not engage with them, as their primary responsibility is supporting their handler.
- Service Dogs Are A Lifeline
Service dogs like Freedom help guide handlers through difficult situations, so they can walk through crowds, be calm during times of ambient noises or movement, and experience comfort in times of distress. In addition to providing cognitive support, service dogs can assist handlers with physical tasks such as balance, coordination and the retrieving of dropped objects. Combined, the integration of mental, physical and emotional assistance creates a sense of security and independence with their handler.
- Service Dogs Are Protected Under Law
Federal law protects service dogs and their handlers under the Americans with Disabilities Act, which allows Freedom and Kuiken to access areas of a facility where the public is allowed to go. For this reason, staff are not allowed to inquire about a handler’s disabilities, require medical documentation, request a special identification card or training documentation for service dogs.
- Service Dogs Are Loved
Even though service dogs are working, they are very much loved by their handlers. Freedom is well taken care of and some may say he’s better off than most pets because he is highly trained, self-aware of his surroundings, and wakes up each day with a purpose. Furthermore, Freedom and Kuiken have a bond that is bigger than his role as a service dog — it is deeper because Freedom helps Kuiken reclaim his life as he is recovering from PTS and TBI.
These are just a few tips handlers would like everyone to know about interacting with their service dogs. For more information on the topic of service dogs, check out the Americans with Disabilities Act policies for service animals.
To read more compelling stories of recovery and hope from other service members and veterans, visit blogs on the A Head for the Future website. Have a TBI experience to share with our team? Submit your story by email today.