Service Dog Pilot Study

Q1. What is a service dog?

Service dogs are trained to assist an individual with a mental health condition by performing specific tasks in response to a cue. Service dogs differ from companion dogs in that they are trained to intervene beyond their natural companionship responses, accompanying the individual at all times and assisting him or her with the management of symptoms that may occur throughout the day or night.

Q2. What is VAC doing about the interest in service dogs?

There is great interest in using service dogs to assist Veterans with mental health conditions. In 2013, VAC commissioned a report on the use of service dogs to assist individuals with PTSD. The Canadian Institute for Military and Veteran Health Research engaged a research team led by Dr. James Gillett at McMaster University. Dr. Gillett’s team found that the current international research is inconclusive and, although there is anecdotal evidence of benefits, further research was required. Therefore, Veterans Affairs Canada launched a pilot study in the fall of 2015.

In addition, as there are no accepted national standards for service dogs, VAC contracted with the Canadian General Standards Board for the development of such standards.

Q3. Why is VAC funding a pilot study instead of providing full funding for service dogs?

Research is needed to evaluate the use of service dogs as safe and effective support for Veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It is important to note that service dogs are provided by service dog organizations. VAC does not pay for nor provide service dogs to Veterans. After the pilot study is completed, we will review the findings of the study and determine the next steps.

Q4. What is the status of the pilot study?

The research team, led by Dr. Claude Vincent of Laval University, has been working on the project since the summer of 2015. To date, the research team has published and presented preliminary findings, which will contribute to a Phase One Interim Findings Report in November 2017. These preliminary findings have generally shown that service dogs may have a positive effect in some areas for Veterans with PTSD. These findings will be validated as the study continues. In July 2018, a Phase Two Final Results report is expected to be completed, which will further examine these findings and assess other measures of effectiveness.

Q5. How does the pilot study work?

The pilot study focuses on determining how service dogs may assist Veterans with PTSD. The study is following two groups of Veterans. The first group includes Veterans paired with a service dog and monitored for approximately 18 months. The second group involves interviewing a group of Veterans who have had their service dog between two and four years.

Q6. Why are there two study groups?

The two groups allow the researchers to examine how service dogs may assist Veterans as they receive the animals as well as the potential benefits over the longer term for Veterans who have had a service dog for a number of years.

Q7. Will Veterans who participate in the pilot study receive financial reimbursement?

Veterans paired with a service dog during the pilot will be reimbursed up to $1,500 a year to cover the cost of food, grooming and veterinary care for the dog for the duration of the pilot study. In addition, participants will be reimbursed for travel expenses related to obtaining the dog and becoming orientated to the use of the animal.

The Veterans (who have had a service dog between two and four years) who will be interviewed by the research team will be paid an honorarium for their interview.

Q8. Why does the pilot project only involve Veterans with PTSD?

To date, most of the interest expressed by Veterans, service dog organizations and the public has focused on using service dogs for assisting Veterans with PTSD. Additionally, PTSD is the most common mental health condition in the Department’s disability benefits program. To ensure that the findings are useful, it is best to focus on one mental health condition.

Q9. What happens to the dogs after the pilot project ends?

The dog will remain with the Veteran, if the dog is a suitable match with the Veteran.

Q10. What happens if the Veteran already has a service dog?

As mentioned earlier, some Veterans who have had a service dog for between two and four years will be selected by the Laval research team to be interviewed about their experiences with a service dog.

Q11. I am a Veteran who has a service dog. Will I be reimbursed for my expenses?

At this time, only Veterans who are part of the pilot project will be reimbursed.

Q12. How can I get chosen to participate? Can I submit my name as a volunteer or a participant for the study?

The recruitment process is now complete.

Q13. If a Veteran is not chosen for the pilot or is not interested in participating in the pilot, what are his or her options for getting a service dog?

The Veteran should contact their nearest service dog organization. If the organization determines that the Veteran is a good candidate for a service dog, the organization may put them on a placement list. VAC does not pay for nor provide service dogs to Veterans.

Q14. What is the end date for reimbursement of food, grooming and veterinary care for Veterans participating in the Service Dog Pilot?

December 31, 2018. Receipts dated after this date will not be reimbursed.

Q15. Why are national standards for service dogs important?

While several service dog organizations have their own standards, currently there is no accepted national standard for service dogs in Canada. This means that there is no assurance to a Veteran or a funding organization that a service dog meets acceptable training and behavioural standards.

National standards will be important to VAC if a decision is made to develop any programming for Veterans using psychiatric service dogs. The standards will provide a high level of assurance that the service dogs being provided to Veterans are properly trained and meet standardized behaviour requirements.

Q16. How does the standards project work?

The CGSB has created a technical advisory committee made up of Veterans, service organizations, service dog training experts and regulators. This committee is working to create the standards.

Q17. Why has the standards completion date been pushed from December 2017 to summer 2018?

There was greater interest from the stakeholder community to be included in the development of standards than originally anticipated. Therefore, to ensure that key stakeholders and other Canadians continue to have the opportunity to provide their input, the anticipated standards completion date has been extended from December 2017 to summer 2018.

Q18. Who determines the make-up of the technical advisory committee?

The CGSB is responsible for creating the committee and managing the process. The Board works independently of VAC to develop the standards. The CGSB has selected experts drawn from the service dog training industry, Veterans’ organizations, regulators and Veterans with service dogs to create the standards.

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