VA opens service dog training area in Menlo Park

April 25, 2013 6:59:32 PM PDT
They say that dog is man's best friend and now war veterans across the Bay Area have a new "Welcome Center" in Menlo Park that includes a service dog training area. The trainers are veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and the dogs help calm their symptoms.

Robert Linder is a veteran who suffers from PTSD, but a female named "Daisy" is helping him with his condition. "She relaxes me to the point that I can go back out to society and function," he told ABC7 News. Daisy is a service dog and Linder is her trainer. Both are part of the VA's canine therapy program. That bond helps draw vets like Linder out emotionally.

"One of the things depression and PTSD and things do is that you go inside yourself and a dog brings you outside yourself, to focus on something else," Linder explained.

Rick Yount studied that bond as part of his master's thesis while in graduate school in 2006 and brought it to the VA in Menlo Park. The VA's dog-assisted training program began there in 2008 and was the first in the nation. Philanthropist John Arrillaga embraced the idea and offered his support.

"Well, we really don't have a facility to train dogs and so he was like, 'OK. I'll build you guys a building,'" Welcome Center Program Director Melissa Puckett recalled. And, so he did.

The 10,000 square foot Welcome Center opened Thursday at the VA's Menlo Park campus. Arrillaga himself was not there, but members of his family were. The center has a spacious training area for the dogs, with their own bath area. It also has a fitness room for the vets and an art room.

"So, it gives them a gateway into expressing things that they haven't been able to express before. It's very powerful," Puckett said.

Linder and daisy will eventually part ways. She will go on to serve another vet who is physically limited. "We pair them up with someone who is going to need more assistance so that they can go out into the work, and 'Oh my God, I dropped my keys,' and then the dogs can just pick them up and help them," therapeutic instructor Sandra Carson said.

If he chooses to continue with the program, Linder will eventually be paired with another dog, but Daisy will always be his girl. "She encouraged me to go out and be a person again and part of society," he said.


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