Over the last year we have heard the term supply chain disruption used to describe the inability of manufactures to deliver components or parts of items we were previously accustomed to being available at a moment’s notice. This was especially true for quite some time in the automobile industry. Supply chain disruptions are not something we were accustomed to and drove prices for items up.
Imagine for a moment though, if the supply chain issue impacted materials you needed to make a device critical to addressing a serious health issue you experience. Imagine you needed to wait four years for this device... would you find that acceptable?
Well, that's exactly what's happening to our veterans with PTSD with something the Americans with Disabilities Act deems a medical device—a service dog.
Supply Chain Issues In the Service Dog Industry
The service dog industry—a nonprofit industry—has had a supply chain issue for years. However, because most nonprofit service dog organizations do not charge for a service dog placement, its doesn’t impact the organization. They do the best they can. It also doesn’t impact donors who give their hard earned dollars.
What Would This Look Like In a For-Profit Industry?
If service dogs were being produced by a for-profit business, the supply chain inefficiency would absolutely impact investors in a very negative way.
If this were the case, it would result in a precipitous fall in share price, investors fleeing the organization, probably a shakeup in executive management, and an extremely hard time raising future capital.
The Root Cause of the Issue
To put it frankly, most service dog organizations do not have a breeding program. As a result they turn to the only place where dogs are always available—shelters—to find dogs to place in their training programs. A longitudinal study conducted by one of the oldest and best service dog organizations in the country, Paws with a Cause found that approximately 1 out of 12 (only 8.25%) of the dogs taken from shelters successfully completed service dog training and were partnered. Further, a percentage of the shelter dogs placed into partnership develop aggression or anxiety and have to be returned.
While this study revealed an 8.25% success rate, many organization do undertake evaluations of their own and generate high results. But even if an organization is able to double or triple this rate of success, are we to accept 15% and 25% success rates as high enough?
(But what are these organizations supposed to do when their only way to receive a continuous supply of dogs to train is through shelters?)
Repairing the Service Dog Supply Chain with Expertise In Breeding & Nurturing Puppies
In 2005, I first learned about supply chain inefficiencies within the service dog industry. I wanted to do something that would utilize my love for dogs—specifically Labrador Retrievers.
While my initial idea was training dogs to become service dogs, this study made it clear I'd face the same supply chain challenges.
It takes very special puppies to become service dogs. Certain breeds excel, but not all puppies of those breeds have the combination of health history, conformation, temperament, intelligence and intuition that will make them successful. It takes a lot money, education, experience and esoteric knowledge to breed outstanding dogs. Being able to perform pedigree analysis, understanding coefficients of inbreeding, recognizing the potential illnesses that can befall a dam during pregnancy and after delivery—not to mention the health issues that can befall a puppy. Research suggests that one third of what a puppy becomes as an adult can be traced to its lineage/pedigree. Hence, all of these factors are important.
Puppy Lineage vs. Nurturing
While one third of what a puppy becomes can be traced to lineage, research also suggests that two thirds of what a puppy will become is related to the nurturing, socialization and experiences it encounters during its critical or sensitive stage of life. Project 2 Heal has long utilized a structured process of nurturing on our pups incorporating methods used by the United States Army Super Dog program, a technique called Puppy Prodigies and the findings of research that stress positive reinforcement training. Being able to leverage the nature-nurture paradigm has allowed us to donate puppies that have a significantly higher success rate than the shelter dogs. Based on feedback from our partners our pups have about a 60% to 65% placement-partnership rate compared to 8.25% success rate of dogs taken from shelters. Our longest standing partnership—Fidos for Freedom— has received 33 puppies from us as of this writing and 32 of them were placed as service dogs. While this is certainly an outlier and we credit this organization for the success, it does show that expertise in breeding and nurturing makes a huge impact during the service dog training process.
Here's the Bottom Line
Project 2 Heal is the only organization in the country addressing this issue. The larger the demand we're able to meet—and we currently serve over 25 organizations nationwide—the more we can help them increase our partners' efficiency. This means more trained service dogs changing or saving the lives of veterans, children with special needs, and adults with disabilities. The end result is the cost per placement goes down, allowing them to make more placements using the same amount of funding. More importantly, the greater efficiency our puppies create leads to less of a wait time for our veterans with PTSD.
With 22 veterans per day taking their own lives, it's our duty to improve the supply chain that bring them an effective medical device—a service dog.
This is especially true when we know from research by Purdue University that a service dog can help reduce cortisol levels, hyper-vigilance, night tremors, and outbursts of anger. These are the very symptoms of PTSD that can lead to suicide ideation. If we are able to get more of our world-class puppies to the many organizations that do not have a breeding program, our partners will be able to get service dogs to veterans in a shorter amount of time. This is how we can reduce the possibility of veteran suicide and allow the process of healing to begin more quickly.
A Breeding Program for Organizations In Need
When I last looked at one of their annual reports, Canine Companions for Independence—the largest service dog organization in the country—bred approximately 600 puppies per year. There are hundreds of smaller service dog organizations that could benefit from our help.
As I noted earlier the higher percentage of each organization’s needed pups we can provide, the more we can reduce the cost and wait time for a veteran to receive a service dog. In order to do this, we'll need to breed hundreds of puppies. Project 2 Heal's plan is to build what would amount to the U.S Service Dog Breeding Center. At this facility we would be able to greatly increase our work. We also want to have a place where veterans that have been waiting for a dog—and might be at increased risk—to have a place to stay so that they can come and help us work with our puppies. We have allowed veterans to come and work with our puppies in the past and at the end of each training session they had a group therapy session with a psychologist.
The most frequent response we received from veterans was that our puppies made them feel that they were part of a mission again.
Being able to bring veterans to our center and providing them a place to stay will give them a sense of hope and a renewed sense of purpose. The only reason the U.S. Service Dog Breeding Center doesn't exist yet our inability to generate the necessary donations to do so.