TRENTON, N.J. – Those suffering from catastrophic physical or mental traumas have benefitted from the assistance and companionship of service dogs. However, the cost to rescue, train and pair a dog with a veteran in need is cost prohibitive, leaving many without this life enhancing service.
Assemblywoman Beth Sawyer is working to bring awareness to how service dogs help veterans. Her resolution (AJR223), passed by the General Assembly Thursday, would designate March 16 as “Paws Healing Heroes Day.”
The nonprofit Paws Healing Heroes, started by Glassboro resident and U.S. Army veteran Mark Eberle, raises money through donations to provide service dogs to veterans suffering from traumatic brain injuries, post-traumatic stress order, military sexual trauma and seizure disorders. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that 28% of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom veterans have traumatic brain injuries; 29% suffer from PTSD.
“I love how Mark words it: a donation saves two lives,” Sawyer (R-Gloucester) said. “He rescues these dogs that are languishing in shelters, gets them the intense training they need to be certified for service, and pairs them with a veteran. But I don’t think people know the cost to prepare a dog for this kind of work, or how many veterans need this help. That’s what I want to change.”
Because state and federal laws do not provide for coverage of that training, those costs fall to veterans and nonprofits that rely on donations. Today, it can cost between $4,000 and $11,000 to rescue and train a service dog. These canines are not emotional support animals, a pet prescribed by a licensed mental professional to provide companionship to those with anxiety, depression or some phobias. While service dogs may offer that support, they are considered working dogs and not pets. They receive rigorous individualized training to aid their veteran with whatever specific tasks that person needs to live more independently.
Eberle’s group has paired 81 veterans with service dogs since 2016.
“There is growing scientific evidence that service dogs reduce the severity and symptoms of mental and physical distress in veterans,” Sawyer said. “The work Paws Healing Heroes and other organizations do is life-saving work, and they deserve recognition for the work they do.”
Currently, there are more than 300,000 veterans living in New Jersey.