Our Program

Operation Service Dog Access is an innovation designed to improve the social mobility of veterans with service animals who have been challenged about the validity of their service dog in public. A first-of-its-kind effort, Operation Service Dog Access assesses the veteran-service dog team against a national standard and credentials/registers the team in a national registry of  service dogs. This new “gold standard” credential improves the confidence of veterans as they get on with their lives in communities, at hotels and even while flying.

Apply

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Tell us about you and your dog.

Assessment

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We evaluate you and your interaction in public settings.

Credentialing

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We issue you a new ID and register you in our national database.

Go!

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Get out in public and enjoy your life with more confidence.

Our History

The importance of service dogs for veterans:

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) says service dog teams have the right to be in all public places.

Some have abused this right. Some have started to question those who "don't look disabled".

Not all wounds are visible. Many military veterans suffer invisible wounds like post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury. Service animals are often prescribed and become a veteran's outlet to the world.

There is a lot of confusion around invisible wounds and the definition of a service dog. As a result, veteran-service dogs teams are being prohibited from public places.

American Humane commissioned a survey to better understand discrimination against veteran-service dog teams. American Humane learned that most employees question the credibility of human-service dog teams. Especially for those with invisible wounds.

Seeing the report, the National Association of Veteran-Serving Organizations (NAVSO) organized a conference. Leaders from government, business, academia and the community attended. The purpose of the conference was to discuss the need of setting national standards. Particularly the training and use of service dogs for veterans with invisible wounds.

After the conference, the American Humane created a Scientific Advisory Committee. The committee included experts from the Departments of Veterans Affairs and Labor, Academia and Philanthropy. The committee wrote the national standard with one goal: improve the mobility and welfare of veterans.

With the standards complete, American Humane and the NAVSO launched a pilot. The pilot, Operation Service Dog Access, will test the need and value of the project.

American Humane and NAVSO will co-manage Operation Service Dog Access out of Washington D.C.

When successful, Operation Service Dog Access will grow to support more veterans with invisible wounds.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) aims to ensure that service dog owners are allowed to have their dog accompany them to public places that non-service dogs are not permitted. However, there is a great deal of confusion around the definition of a service dog for those with post-traumatic stress (PTS) and traumatic brain injury (TBI) and how this type of service dog differs from a guide dog, therapy dog, or emotional support animal. As a result, veterans with invisible wounds are being prohibited from entering airports, hotels, restaurants and businesses with their service dogs.

American Humane commissioned a public access survey to gain further insight into the factors causing discrimination against veterans with service dogs in retail venues. Results of this survey suggest that most employees question the credibility of people claiming their animal is a service dog, especially when those customers have no visible disabilities, as is the case for many veterans with PTS and TBI.

These results played an extremely important role in informing a national convening in September 2016 of professionals hosted by the National Association of Veteran-Serving Organizations (NAVSO). The purpose of the convening was to address the lack of consistent national standards regulating the training and use of service dogs for veterans with PTS and TBI. A diverse group of leaders—with backgrounds spanning service dog training, government affairs, veteran advocacy, mental health services and the transportation and restaurant industries, among others—attended the event with the shared goal of defining actionable next steps in developing national service dog standards.

With the input and advice of the representatives from various industries, American Humane created a Scientific Advisory Committee—made up of leading dog trainers, mental health experts, veterans experts, animal welfare specialists, and other key advocates—to create these standards and to develop a conceptual framework for service dog team assessments and credentialing. In the end, stakeholders have one goal: ensure veterans with PTS have improved well-being via access to properly trained, lifesaving service dogs and improve access to public spaces for the veterans and their PTS service dogs.

With these National Standards now complete, American Humane and NAVSO are executing a pilot program to test the assessment, credentialing and registration process for veteran applicants. Under the guidance of a two-person project management office (jointly staffed by American Humane and NAVSO), Operation SERVICE DOG ACCESS will stress test the various components of the project: National Standards, application processes, evaluation methodologies, credentialing processes and, finally, veteran registration for successful applicants. Our successful pilot will allow American Humane and NAVSO to move to Beta phase in Summer 2018.