Last week, American Humane Association hosted a first-of-its-kind national convening to address a major issue for our nation’s veterans: breaking down barriers for access to PTS service dogs.

Every day, more than 180 veterans are diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress (PTS). PTS service dogs play a vital role in the health, well-being and recovery of many of these veterans, but waiting lists for these life-saving animals can take as long as 18-24 months. Currently, there are no national standards or best practices for training and credentialing these vitally important service dogs. And to compound that, many Americans are uninformed about the roles and rights of service dogs, making access to public places harder for vets with service dogs.

In fact, results of a survey conducted by American Humane suggest employees are unprepared to accommodate the unique needs of customers with PTS service dogs. Employees also question the credibility of people claiming their animal is a service dog, especially when those customers have no visible disabilities, as with many PTS veterans. Key findings include:

  • Seven in 10 employees surveyed feel at best “moderately informed” regarding the difference between service animals, therapy animals, and emotional support animals, including more than one-fifth (23 percent) of respondents who say they’re “not informed at all.”
  • Over half of respondents (56 percent) said the visibility or obviousness of a person’s disability is a factor in their perception of the legitimacy of their service dog;
  • About two-thirds (69 percent) of respondents never or rarely (i.e. once every few months, or less than five times per year) encounter customers with PTS service dogs;
  • The vast majority of retail employees surveyed (69 percent) said they never received training from their employer on the questions they are legally allowed to ask customers to verify an animal is a service dog;
  • More than one-third (35 percent) suspected at least one customer in the last year of misrepresenting their pet as a service dog in order to gain entry to their place of work.

The results played an extremely important role in last week’s national gathering of professionals, sponsored by Mars Petcare and the Schultz Family Foundation, to address the lack of consistent national standards regulating the training and use of PTS service dogs. Mars Petcare, whose vision is to create a Better World for Pets every day, works with partners like American Humane and Schultz Family Foundation to leverage these findings to develop policies and practices that contribute to bringing this vision to life.

A diverse group of leaders spanning a variety of industries, from airlines to academia, attended the event with the shared goal of identifying the barriers that our veterans face in access to PTS service dogs and working toward defining national service dog standards. At the event, attendees heard from veterans who spoke to the critical role that their PTS service dogs have played in their transition back to civilian life and discussed ways to tackle these issues. As hosts and sponsors, American Humane, Schultz Family Foundation and Mars Petcare all had representatives participating in the conversations.

“Our vision is to create a better world for pets – and we know that service animals are extra special and play a critical role in the lives of their owners,” said Brad Jaffe, vice president of corporate affairs at Mars Petcare US, presenting sponsor. “We’re proud to work with partners such as AHA that are dedicated to educating the public about the role of these animals, and at the same time, advocating for policies that increase access to service dogs, thus improving veterans’ lives.”

While the day was filled with productive conversations, AHA, Schultz Family Foundation and Mars Petcare are committed to turning these conversations into action, forming a task force of the convening’s attendees to lead the charge on creating policies to bring to Washington.