Paws & Effect: Changing Lives One Service Dog at a Time, Part 1

U.S veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) normally feel depressed, nervous and disconnected from the world. With the help from Paws & Effect’s service dogs, U.S veterans suffering from PTSD are now able to tackle everyday living activities head on. Find out more about Paws & Effect veterans program in Part 1 of our Q&A with Paws & Effect Founder and Executive Director Nicole Shumate

What is Paws & Effect?

Nicole: Paws & Effect is a nonprofit that was established in Iowa in 2006. It raises, trains and places well-socialized service dogs with combat veterans who have combat acquired mobility impairments and/or combat acquired PTSD. As well, we place service dogs with children affected by autism. The recipients receive the finished service dog at no cost, [and] Paws & Effect bears all the costs of veterinary care, training and supplies during the time the dogs are in our care.

What is the hardest part of training the service dogs?

Nicole: Public access! The puppies can be so unruly as they grow up. The puppy raisers have the toughest job, by far. But it is also the most important job, because the puppies need to be out and about, otherwise they won't adjust to all the hustle and bustle of the real world as compared to a training environment.

Why did you decide to start using service dogs for veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?

Nicole: That decision was based on feedback from veterans that they felt more at ease being accompanied by a well-trained service dog. If they believe this type of intervention to be successful, there's just no reason to do anything but support their efforts to reintegrate.

What are some of the benefits that service dogs provide to the veterans?

Nicole: Many veterans find that their bodies are just worn out from combat. They carry such heavy loads in addition to wearing their body armor. The effects on their hips, knees and back are tremendous. The veterans are also used to having the constant companionship of a Battle Buddy while they are deployed. To suddenly be alone, even in our safe communities, it feels naked and raw. The companionship of a service dog plays a crucial role.

How many services dogs have been specially trained to work with veterans?

Nicole: More than two dozen through Paws & Effect, with more than 50 in the pipeline for placement in the next two years.

How do veterans apply for a service dog?

Nicole: Each January we take in paper applications from those individuals who have expressed an interest in obtaining a service dog. Those referrals come from Community Based Warrior Transition, the Iowa National Guard, the VA and word of mouth. Based just on the number of applications we receive from veterans of many recent conflicts, we could place 15 dogs annually for the next 20 years and not meet the demand.

How do you determine who gets which dog?

Nicole: It is based both on the information we get through the application process as well as an in-person interview. I'm looking for the veteran who expresses the desire to reintegrate into their community. Some veterans are so severely affected by PTSD, placing a service dog with them may yield no benefit. Other veterans are struggling with their PTSD, but still getting out into the community. The best application is the individual who falls between those two extremes, so that we can affect their circumstance.

What were some of the challenges that both the dogs and veterans had to go through in order to graduate from the program?

Nicole: Acknowledging, visibly, that they have PTSD. Having a service dog accompany you makes a very obvious statement. People ask questions out of curiosity and it can be uncomfortable for a veteran to explain their needs.

Find out more about Paws & Effect and join Right Stuf in supporting this wonderful cause!