A New Service Foster Dog Program Will Improve Access and Expedite Training for Veterans Seeking Psychiatric Service Dogs

WALNUT CREEK, CA, November 1, 2023 – In response to the success and transformative results of the organization’s Pets and Vets program, the Animal Rescue Foundation (ARF) has announced a new program to increase the number of service dogs ready to meet the needs of Veterans.

ARF’s new Service Dog Foster (SDF) Program invites volunteers to play an instrumental role in preparing shelter dogs for their future roles as psychiatric service dogs. Since its founding, ARF has employed a reciprocal approach to service dog training that allows Veterans and dogs to undergo training together, resulting in stronger human–animal bonds and providing vocational skills to Veterans who wish to become dog trainers. This unique approach allows ARF to match Veterans and dogs more quickly, bypassing an often years-long waitlist for pre-trained service dogs offered by many service dog programs. This immersive training, currently six months in duration, begins with approximately two months of basic obedience skills training.

SDF volunteers will now perform these foundational training duties to better prepare dogs for psychiatric service training. Volunteers will attend weekly training classes with ARF’s Pets and Vets trainers for eight weeks, helping dogs learn essential skills needed to become certified psychiatric service dogs. SDF volunteers will reduce the time Veteran and dog pairs require to earn their credential, making the four-month program more accessible to a broader number of Veterans.

“Every day, volunteers at ARF form, support, elevate and celebrate the bond between people and pets,” said Susan Lee Vick, CEO of ARF. “In the role of Pets and Vets Foster, they will truly transform the lives of former shelter dogs and Veterans who have given so much to our country.”

ARF’s Pets and Vets program identifies dogs in Northern and Central California animal shelters that demonstrate potential as service dogs. After careful assessment, the dogs are matched with Veterans to help alert and alleviate symptoms stemming from PTSD, anxiety, agoraphobia, and traumatic brain injuries. ARF’s Pets and Vets shelter-to-service program provided inspiration for the Veterans Therapy Act signed into law in 2021. Under the legislation, the Department of Veteran Affairs created a five-year pilot program pairing Veterans with service-related mental health challenges with dogs in training to be psychiatric service dogs.

The benefits of our Pets and Vets shelter-to-service training program extend beyond Veterans and their service dogs, impacting the lives of families and friends who witness the positive transformation. The program has graduated more than 60 Veteran and shelter dog service dog pairs since its founding in 2011 and trained many more pairs.

“Every graduating Veteran and dog pair serve as a testament to the resilience and healing power of unconditional love,” said Amanda Conlon, Director of the Pets and Vets program. “Our goal with this new initiative is to help even more Veterans and former shelter dogs benefit from this program.”

Those interested in becoming a volunteer foster for ARF’s Pets and Vets program can learn more here. Volunteers must be at least 18 years old. To enroll in the psychiatric service dog program, Veterans can be referred by a VA, private mental health provider, or apply directly here.

About The Animal Rescue Foundation (ARF) 

ARF is a privately-funded, 501(c)(3) non-profit founded in 1991. Supported by a dedicated volunteer corps of 480 members and housed in a 50,000 square foot animal care facility and community center, ARF’s core mission is the rescue and adoption of dogs and cats who have run out of time at municipal shelters. Since its founding, ARF has placed nearly 50,000 cats and dogs in homes, performed more than 56,000 spay and neuter surgeries to combat pet overpopulation, and graduated and supported more than 60 rescue-turned- service dogs with Veterans through the organization’s nationally recognized Pets and Vets program. ARF offers numerous training classes and workshops as well as community assistance programs such as the ARF Emergency Medical Fund®, ARF Pet Safety Net, and FoodShare that provide critical resources to pet guardians during times of financial crises. Through ARF, people experience the unconditional love and acceptance of dogs and cats to fulfill a mission of People Rescuing Animals … Animals Rescuing People®.

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