About My Mutt Truman’s Death and Why Support Dogs Can Help Veterans

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It was 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, and I had just finished an interview with a source for a story. My dog ​​Truman, a pit bull who had attended college classes with me, roamed the halls of Congress and accompanied my National Guard unit through much of the pandemic response, was upstairs in the office of my fiancee, dozing in one of the dog beds we have in almost every room in the house.

It was then that I realized that in four hours I was going to lose Truman. I had to euthanize him. I imagined how I would hold his paw, watching his eyes as he walked away. The seconds passed and the fate of my best friend, who was to witness my marriage, was sealed.

After my service in Afghanistan and during my college years, I had a lot of problems – namely anxiety and heavy drinking at inappropriate times of the day – but luckily nothing too intense or at- beyond the help of therapy at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Read more : Congress Passes Bill To Help Veterinarians With Mental Health Problems Obtain Service Dogs

I adopted Truman having no experience with dogs. It came from a poor quality animal shelter in Cincinnati and was sold as a “German Shepherd mix,” probably because it’s less frightening to many than a pit bull. After a DNA test, we found that he did indeed have about 10% Shepherd in him, so there was a grain of truth in the labeling of the refuge.

I have learned that dogs are indeed emotional avatars to their owners. When I was relaxed, Truman was relaxed; when I was upset, Truman paced the apartment, playing aggressively with his chew toys. It was then that I learned that I had a problem. My problems were fully articulated by a mutt, not by the highly trained VA doctors or people who knew me well.

A VA doctor was able to identify the anxiety Truman was channeling and wrote a letter prescribing Truman as an emotional support animal, or ESA.

This is where things get controversial. ESAs are not assistance dogs and ESAs are not formally part of VA policy. But they fall under similar legal protections under the Fair Housing Act. VA doctors can prescribe them, but it is not part of the typical treatment. The ESAs have no training; the government did not subsidize any costs associated with Truman. And I concede that ESAs have been abused by people who just want to skate because of the extra animal costs imposed by owners and in one case someone tried to bring a peacock on a flight.

Truman wasn’t supposed to be in places only assistance dogs can go to, but he legally could in most cases. ESAs were recently banned from flying, but my intentions and those of my doctor were not to bring them on planes and into grocery stores. He was just an ordinary dog, but this bond we had was essential. It made me feel better and helped me regulate my emotions.

And I took the opportunity to rent apartments with him that had pit bull bans, which is shockingly common even in counties that don’t have formal breed restrictions.

Truman, a pit bull who was an emotional support animal for journalist Steve Beynon. (Photo courtesy of the author)

Pit Bulls are a breed that I have grown to love for their loyalty, ease of training, desire to please, and camaraderie. They are often unfairly discriminated against by local authorities and owners, banning the breed on the basis of prank data suggesting they are more prone to aggressive behavior. Of course, this is a strong breed and if they attack someone it will be bad, but small dogs are more likely to bite, mainly because owners don’t feel the need to take cute dogs seriously when of training. The owners are bad, not the breeds.

At one point I was researching to try and find a cute Truman van and could live there while I looked for a place that would hire us both, until a doctor finalized the ESA documents. .

Truman went with me pretty much wherever it suited a dog, both because he gave me a level of emotional stability, but also, frankly, because he was my pal.

He went to college with me. In previous jobs where I had to go to an office every day, he was a frequent visitor. It even appeared on television at least twice when I worked for the Fox branch in Cincinnati. He once helped send a message to viewers that if people were cold outside, Truman would be cold outside – a warning to bring your pets during cold spells. Ironically, Truman had two coats and was uncomfortably warm in all non-winter conditions. He liked the freezing weather.

He was even with me on my first date with my now fiancée. During the date he fell asleep on his knees which was adorable. A seal of approval that I quickly agreed with, and a reflection of the fact that he was an excellent winger.

Truman also walked the halls of Congress with me. The Capitol is a huge labyrinth of offices and corridors that you have to get used to. As a relatively fresh reporter covering the Hill and settling in a new city, I killed two birds with one stone by having him walk what would end up being miles in the Capitol while learning the layout. He was popular with staff at some offices I visited, serving as a morale booster, and of course, he had pets of lawmakers who had come to a rare bipartisan agreement that he was a good boy.

It was also a good way to build relationships, and therefore sources that would help me later in my reporting. Stressed out, the underpaid Hill workers were able to play with a dog, and Truman got a good exercise.

I also served part-time in the National Guard while continuing my career as a journalist and, like most soldiers, I was activated during several national missions. Unfortunately, the Guard does not top up pet boarding fees and offers no solutions to troops who must leave their critters behind. Don’t hold your breath for the governors to spend political capital and taxpayer dollars on dog sitting for the troops.

Truman accompanied my unit through much of the pandemic response, holding our hotel fort and spending significant play time with the soldiers. When a soldier got tired of petting or playing tug of war with Truman, there was another hero ready to entertain the dog. Once again, a huge boost in morale. Truman served his country.

The VA’s own research shows that service dogs, the trained ones, not ESAs, can be essential recovery tools for veterans. But I would suggest that ESAs, untrained mutts, can also be effective. My problems weren’t as bad as those of the veterans who need those expensive professional puppies. But there is a category of veterans or anyone with mental health issues that are not serious enough to warrant a service dog, for whom a legally protected companion can be a tremendous boost to the dog. morale and treatment.

Suicide and the health of the metal are constantly mentioned by military leaders and lawmakers. I have rarely heard of specific solutions. It’s still a vague program, a sign to hang up asking soldiers not to kill themselves, a PowerPoint presentation saying the military and the VA have all of these options – but nothing concrete, other than a hotline for when things have gone too far, and VA Committee lawmakers urging Something must be done. We never get to that something. Dogs won’t work for everyone, but Truman has helped me.

The VA warns of concerns about what happens to a veteran’s mental health when the dog dies. For me, it was devastating. But I suspect the devastation is the same as for anyone having to put their dog down. Truman saved me critical time to figure things out and find other ways to maintain my sanity. My recommendation to others is that the dog won’t solve all of your problems, but it is a hell of a companion and a mental health supplement. I owe everything to this dog.

The veterinary hospital does its best to be respectful. There is a special room at the back where dogs are dropped off and a side door for former owners to exit so other patients don’t have to watch them leave in shock, after terminating a member of the hospital. family.

They allow you to pay in advance. While my fiancee and I were in mourning, we had to choose an urn for Truman’s ashes. In a dark, comical twist, the ballot boxes are listed on a rigid, plastic-coated physical menu as it is always held by people who are crying.

I did the last days of Truman as best I could. He was insatiable, but I rarely let him binge. But in his last days, he ate what he wanted. I bought him fries, two double cheeseburgers and chicken nuggets at McDonald’s. For another meal, my fiancee made a steak, and a second for the morning where he also had eggs. His last meal was roast chicken with a thick layer of grated cheese snow.

The Veterans Crisis Line can be reached 24/7 by calling 1-800-273-8255 and pressing 1, or texting 838-255 or contacting crisis line website.

– Steve Beynon is a reporter for Military.com based in Washington DC. He specializes in ground combat coverage. A veteran of the Afghan war, serving over a decade as a cavalry scout, he currently serves as a non-commissioned officer in the National Guard.

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