VA Palo Alto Health Care System
Recreation Therapy Service - Canine Programs
The Service Dog In-Training program started as a collaboration with the Recreation Therapy Service and Paws for Purple Hearts (PPH) at the Men’s Trauma Recovery Program at the Menlo Park VA in 2008. This pilot program was the first of its type at the Department of Veterans Affairs. We learned by incorporating training service dogs for fellow comrades into the Veterans inpatient treatment goals; it helped to heal our Veterans' psychological scars, including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Through the training process with the dogs, Veterans can enhance their self-worth, and provide an opportunity to practice emotional regulation and a reason for participating in social relationships.
Veterans get to experience the unconditional love and support of the dogs they are training. Some have stated an increase in the following: patience, impulse control, a positive sense of purpose, sense of belonging and acceptance, an increase in assertiveness skills and improved parenting skills as well as family dynamics. Veterans may have also found a decrease in isolation, depression, and startled responses.
The Service Dog in Training Intervention continues to this day in the Men’s and Women’s Trauma Recovery Program and continues to expand. VA Palo Alto Health Care System partners with two Assistance Dog Institute (ADI) accredited organizarions - PPH and Warrior Canine Connection (WCC) - under a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). We are fortunate to have full time service dog trainers working with our VAPAHCS staff. This special intervention is a part of Veterans' treatment in our polytrauma programs, addiction services, and other outpatient programs. Depending on the progression, a service dog in training may be partnered with a Veteran for overnight stays during the week.
Our Facility Dog Program grew out of the service dog in-training intervention. One of the first puppies to ever visit our campus, Webb became our first facility dog in the Community Living Center. Webb started out his journey in the Men’s Trauma Recovery Program, but his career path changed from service dog in training to facility dog. Webb learned how to brighten everyone’s day and became a valuable member of VAPAHCS.
Currently, we have four facility dogs: Webb and Lana, donated to WCC, work in the Welcome Center on the Menlo Park Campus. Timmy works in the Women’s Trauma Recovery Program, and the newest addition is Ralph in the San Jose Clinic.
What began with three golden retrievers - Vegas, Verde, and Venuto - has grown and continues to be an integral part of our Veterans' healthcare here at VAPAHCS.