HELENA, Mont. — Montana ranks third in the nation for veterans per capita, with many of them suffering from PTSD.
That’s why two Carroll College students are training a service dog to help a Montana veteran in need.
Ali Hance and Madie Sanford are training a dog named Major as part of their Anthrozoology program at the college, partnering with the Veterans Treatment Court and a non-profit organization called Dog Tag Buddies.
“It’s hard to keep a 360 view out around you, so that’s what Major is going to help with,” Sanford said.
PTSD, known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, is an invisible illness for many veterans.
“A lot of people look at a veteran and think they’re totally fine. Unless they’re wearing a hat, you’re not going to know that they’re a veteran and they have something wrong,” Sanford said.
According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, the symptoms include:
- Feeling on edge
- Reliving the event
- Avoiding things that remind you of the event
Non-profit organizations like Dog Tag Buddies are working with veterans to pair them with a trained service dog.
Still, that doesn’t keep some people from taking advantage of their purpose.
That’s why Sanford, Hance and Dog Tag Buddies founder DeeDe Baker visited the State Capitol last week to meet with a legislator about updating the law.
“If they have to worry every time they go out that another dog is going to attack their trained service dog, that’s huge and that’s not fair and that’s not a good place to put those veterans and their dogs,” Baker said.
Baker says the first way to address this program is to clearly align Montana service dog laws to define service animals as being only dogs and in some cases, miniature horses. She says this includes articulating what a service animal is and is not.
“The updated version will also help create an educational element for businesses and the general public. The change will also make it an option to charge individuals with a misdemeanor and fine,” Baker said.
Sanford and Hance tell NBC Montana that training a service dog does come with some challenges.
“He would not ‘down.’ That was his biggest challenge. He would sit, he would do everything else, but he would not ‘down.’ We still have some struggles with that, but he’s still in training,” Hance said.
However, they say they have figured out an easy way to make it work.
“We’re lucky with Major, he’s very food motivated. He loves to work, he loves his job,” Hance said.
After they give Major to his new owner, Sanford and Hance hope that other students will become involved with service dog training.
“It takes a lot of time and energy into this, I mean we’re training 24/7, every single day. So, we need students who are going to be dedicated to not only training the dog, but also to the cause that they’re training for. Training a dog is fun, but knowing that what we’re training for is going to give someone independence, that’s the best thing,” Hance said.
For more information about Dog Tag Buddies, you can click here.